Skip to main content

Full text of "Generations The History Of America's Future, 1584 To 2069 By William Strauss & Neil Howe"

See other formats


"1 provocative, erudite, aid enpagiag analysis it the rhytlns it ttnertcan life" 

-Newsweek 



William 
Strauss 
& Neil 
Howe 


GENERATIONS 




Generations 

The History of America’ s Future, 
1584 to 2069 


WILLIAM STRAUSS 
and NEIL HOWE 


HARPER 


PERENNIAL 


NEW YORK ♦ 


LONDON • 


TORONTO 9 SYDNEY 




Copyright © 1991 by William Strauss & Neil Howe 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or 
by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any 
information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Pub- 
lisher. Inquiries should be addressed to Permissions Department, William Morrow and 
Company, Inc., 195 Broadway, New York, NY 10007. 

It is the policy of William Morrow and Company, Inc., and its imprints and affiliates, 
recognizing the importance of preserving what has been written, to print the books we 
publish on acid-free paper, and we exert our best efforts to that end. 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Strauss, William. 

Generations : the history of America’s future, 1584 to 2069 / Willaim Strauss and 
Neil Howe. — 1st. ed. 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 0-688-11912-3 (pbk.) 

1. Unites States — History. 2. Generations — United States — History 
Neil. II. Title. 

[E179.S89 1992] 

973— dc20 


. I. Howe, 

92-8222 

CIP 


Printed in the United States of America 


oo 





To our grandparents and grandchildren , 
whose lives will touch parts of four centuries 




Preface 


In a recent survey, new college graduates listed history as the academic subject 
whose lessons they found of least use in their daily affairs. In part, this reflects 
the show-me pragmatism of today’s rising generation. Yet as America embarks 
on the 1990s, people of all ages feel a disconnection with history. Many have 
difficulty placing their own thoughts and actions, even their own lives, in any 
larger story. As commonly remembered, history is all about Presidents and wars, 
depressions and scandals, patternless deeds done by people with power far beyond 
what the typical reader can ever hope to wield. If history seems of little personal 
relevance today, then what we do today seems of equal irrelevance to our own 
lives (and the lives of others) tomorrow. Without a sense of trajectory, the future 
becomes almost random. So why not live for today? What’s to lose? 

During the 1970s and 1980s, this today fixation has rumbled throughout 
American society, top to bottom. Our Presidents and Congresses have expressed 
a broad-based preference for consumption over savings, debt over taxes, the 
needs of elders over the needs of children. In our private lives, we have seen 
the same attitude reflected in parents-come-first family choices, adults-only con- 
dos, leveraged Wall Street buy-outs, and the live-fast, die-young world of inner- 
city drug dealers. All these actions are more of a piece than many of us may 
feel comfortable admitting. 

We offer this book as an antidote. More fundamentally, we hope to give our 
reader a perspective on human affairs unlike anything available in the usual 
history and social science texts. Once you have read this book, we expect you 



8 


PREFACE 


will reflect differently on much that you see in yourself, your family, your 
community, and the nation. You may understand better how the great events of 
American history, from wars to religious upheavals, have affected the lifecycles 
of real people, famous and common, in high political offices and in ordinary 
families. You may also gain a better sense of how you and your peers fit into 
the ongoing story of American civilization — a long and twisting human drama 
that offers each generation a special role. Appreciating the rhythm of this drama 
will enable you to foresee much of what the future holds for your own lifecycle, 
as well as what it holds for your children or grandchildren after your own time 
has passed. 

This book presents the “history of the future” by narrating a recurring dy- 
namic of generational behavior that seems to determine how and when we 
participate as individuals in social change — or social upheaval. We say, in effect, 
that this dynamic repeats itself. This is reason enough to make history important: 
For if the future replays the past, so too must the past anticipate the future. 

We retell a favorite old tale in a brand-new way: the full story of America 
from the Puritans forward, presented along what we call the “generational di- 
agonal” — the lifecycle course, childhood through old age, lived by the discrete 
birthyear groups we define as “generations.” We identify eighteen such gen- 
erations through four centuries of American history, dating back to the first New 
World colonists. Among these generations, we find important recurring person- 
ality patterns — specifically, four types of “peer personalities” that have (in all 
but one case) followed each other in a fixed order. We call this repeating pattern 
the “generational cycle.” The cycle lies at the heart of our story and offers, we 
believe, an important explanation for why the story of America unfolds as it 
does. Read together, our eighteen generational biographies present a history of 
the American lifecycle and a history of cross-generational relationships. These 
relationships — between parents and children, between midlife leaders and youths 
coming of age, between elders and their heirs — depict history as people actually 
live it, from growing up in their teens to growing old in their seventies. 

One of these eighteen American generations, of course, is yours. All but the 
very oldest or very youngest of our contemporary readers belong to one of the 
following four generations: 

• “G.I.” elders, bom 1901-1924, age 66 to 89 as 1991 begins; 

• “SILENT” midlifers, bom 1925-1942, age 48 to 65; 

• “BOOMER” rising adults, bom 1943-1960, age 30 to 47; 

• “13ER” youths, bom 1961-1981, age 9 to 29. 

In this book, we describe what we call the “peer personality” of your gen- 
eration. You may share many of these attributes, some of them, or almost none 



PREFACE 


9 


of them. Every generation includes all kinds of people. Yet, as we explain in 
Part I, you and your peers share the same “age location” in history, and your 
generation’s collective mind-set cannot help but influence you — whether you 
agree with it or spend a lifetime battling against it. 

For the moment, let’s suppose you share your peers’ mind-set. If so, here is 
how you might respond to the message of this book. 

If you are a G./., your own collegial identity is so powerful — and has left 
such a colossal lifelong imprint on America’s political, social, and economic 
institutions — that you tend to see older and younger generations as ineffectual 
facsimiles of your own. You may therefore resist our contention that other living 
generations are intrinsically different. But make no mistake: G.I.s have a distinct 
character. Of all four of our basic peer personalities, your “Civic” type is 
probably the most crisply defined, and the boundaries separating G.I.s from the 
Lost and the Silent are among the most compelling in American history. As firm 
believers in public harmony and cooperative social discipline, many of you might 
read into this book’s plural title a disturbing message of discord. Possessed of 
a hubris bom of youthful optimism fulfilled, perhaps you will puzzle over one 
of our core premises: that generations, like people, can relate to one another in 
ways which may not be mutually beneficial. Collectively, you G.I.s grew up so 
accustomed to being looked upon (and rewarded) as good, constructive, and 
deserving that you have had trouble, later in life, understanding how others might 
be viewed and treated differently — and how others might view themselves dif- 
ferently. All aging Civic generations have had this trouble, including the peers 
of Cotton Mather and James Blair in the late 1720s and the peers of Thomas 
Jefferson and James Madison in the early 1820s. 

Yours is a rationalist generation. In the tradition of the eighteenth-century 
patriot-scientist Benjamin Rush, Civics have always come of age believing that 
history does (or should) move in orderly straight lines. For much of your lifecycle, 
this attitude brought you hope; in old age, it brings you mostly despair. Over 
the last two decades, you have recognized that younger generations do not display 
the friendliness, optimism, and community spirit you remember in your own 
peers at like age. Your perceptions are correct. Younger generations do not share 
your strengths. Instead, they are preparing to leave behind endowments of a less 
visible and secular nature, endowments that G.I.s have difficulty appreciating. 
As your generation loses energy, you may fear that not only your own unique 
virtue but perhaps all virtue will fade with you. But there is cause for hope. Our 
cycle suggests your special strengths will rekindle, thanks ultimately to a values- 
laden nurturing style associated with much of what you dislike (and what the 
elder Mather and Jefferson similarly disliked) in younger parents and leaders. 
If you can resist measuring others against your own standard, you may find our 
“generational diagonal” and nonlinear cycle to be comforting ideas. So too 
might the cycle revive your interest in the nurture of today’s preschoolers. Their 



10 


PREFACE 


early childhood is beginning to resemble what you may remember of your own, 
seventy or eighty years ago. 

If you are a SILENT, you are part of an other-directed generation that comes 
more easily to an appreciation of the mind-sets, virtues, and flaws of those bom 
before or behind you. You need less persuasion than others to accept a typology 
of generations, a theory of historic oscillation, and the need for balance and 
diversity in any story of progress. Then again, since generations of your “Adap- 
tive” type tend to respond ambivalently to anything they confront, you may 
well quarrel with our general conclusions and inquire into detail. Like the fiftyish 
managers of Teddy Roosevelt’s “melting pot” America, you may dislike the 
majoritarian elements of our theory — doubting whether any diverse group num- 
bering in the tens of millions can possibly fit into a single peer personality or a 
single generation. As Henry Clay once did with slave emancipation, you might 
try patching our new theory together in your mind with other competing theories 
to yield a consensus or “compromise” perspective. In the manner of Woodrow 
Wilson at Versailles, you might remain undecided until you hear what the experts 
have to say. And in the spirit of the aging William Ellery Channing or John 
Dewey, you might search for evidence to support your intuition that civilized 
man can, in the end, produce happy endings — as long as everyone remains open 
to new ideas and allows a little give and take. 

We can picture you puzzling over what it means to be “Adaptive” as we 
define it — and debating over where we set our generational boundaries. You 
may at times sound or feel like a G.I. or a Boomer, but you are reaching the 
cusp of elderhood having shared neither the outer triumph of your next-elders 
nor the inner rootedness of your next-juniors. Sixty-five years after your first 
birthyear, no member of your generation has yet been elected President. That 
bothers you — though you would be the first to admit that an instinct for leadership 
may not be your generation’s strong suit. Like the midlife peers of William 
Byrd II and Alexander Spotswood in their rococo Williamsburg drawing rooms, 
your generation has a highly refined taste for process and expertise that ties other 
people in knots. Yet in your very humility, your sense of irony, even the creative 
tension of your elusive hunt for catharsis, your generation has done more than 
any since Louis Brandeis’ to bring a sense of nonjudgmental fairness and open- 
mindedness to American society. Your pluralist antennae, so generously directed 
everywhere else, have yet to focus on your own offspring, who have so far been 
mostly a source of disappointment and worry, much as Trumanesque children 
were to Wilsonesque parents. You had hoped your 13er children would grow 
up kind and socially sensitive; instead their generation is turning out too hardened 
for your taste. You suspect maybe your peers did something wrong as parents — 
but you’re not about to give up searching for ways to make amends. 

If you are a BOOMER, you know yours is, beyond doubt, an authentic 
generation. You will recognize the generational boundaries separating you from 



PREFACE 


11 


others (and, if bom from 1943 through 1945, you are probably delighted that 
someone finally put you where you always knew you belonged). Unlike the 
G.I.s, you have no trouble recognizing how other generations have personalities 
very different from your own. Unlike the Silent, you have never imagined being 
anything other than what you are. But the great comfort you derive from your 
own identity is precisely what makes your generation troubling in the eyes of 
others. Like the peers of John Winthrop or Ralph Waldo Emerson, you perceive 
that within your circle lies a unique vision, a transcendent principle, a moral 
acuity more wondrous and extensive than anything ever sensed in the history of 
mankind. True, like a Herman Melville or an H. L. Mencken, you often loathe 
the narcissism and self-satisfaction of your peers. But that too is an important 
trait of your “Idealist” generational type. Possessing unyielding opinions about 
all issues, you judge your own peers no less harshly than you judge your elders 
and juniors. Either way, you may well appreciate that the time has come to 
move the Boomer discussion beyond the hippie-tumed-yuppie, Boomer-as- 
hy pocrite theme. Stripped to its fundamentals, your generation of rising adults 
is no more hypocritical than Thoreau at Walden Pond, or Jefferson Davis during 
his seven-year retreat into the Mississippi woods. 

You may feel some disappointment in the Dan Quayles and Donald Trumps 
who have been among your first agemates to climb life’s pyramid, along with 
some danger in the prospect of Boomer Presidents and Boomer-led Congresses 
farther down the road. Watching Franklin Pierce and Stephen Douglas, the peers 
of Lincoln and Lee felt much the same trepidation about their own generation — 
with reason, as history soon demonstrated. You may see in your peers a capacity 
for great wisdom, terrible tragedy, or perhaps just an insufferable pomposity. 
Over the centuries, Idealist generations like yours have produced more than their 
share of all three. Having lived just half a lifecycle, you probably find it hard 
to imagine that your generation may someday produce strong-willed leaders on 
a par with a Sam Adams or a Benjamin Franklin, a Douglas Mac Arthur or a 
Franklin Roosevelt. That’s not surprising. Idealist generations — quite the reverse 
of Civic generations — typically exert their most decisive influence on history 
late in life. To understand how this happens, you need to step outside your inner- 
absorption, take a look at like-minded ancestors, and understand the fateful 
connection between the Idealist lifecycle and the larger flow of events. Perhaps 
you already sense that your Boomer peers, for all their narcissism and parallel 
play, will someday leave a decisive mark on civilization quite unlike anything 
they have done up to now. Your intuition is correct. History suggests they will. 

If you are a 13er, we can imagine a cautious reception. Here we are, two 
writers from a generation you don’t especially like, laying bare your generation’s 
problems and affixing a label with an ominous ring. Back in the 1920s, Gertrude 
Stein, then in her mid-forties, did much the same to her thirty ish juniors, and 
the name she chose (the “Lost Generation”) was just perverse enough to catch 



12 


PREFACE 


on with the rising cultural elite. You may not like being lumped in with mall 
rats, drug gangs, and collegians who can’t find Chicago on a map — but you will 
grudgingly admit that’s how others often see you. No doubt you have already 
noticed the recent barrage of books and articles declaring that people your age 
are dumb, greedy, and soulless. You may find solace in learning that several 
earlier American generations have also been perceived negatively almost from 
birth — for example, the peers of George Washington, John Hancock, and Patrick 
Henry. Along with Ulysses Grant or George Patton, you might not mind striking 
others as “bad,” knowing full well that low expectations is a game you can 
play to your advantage. You know the odds. Maybe, like John D. Rockefeller, 
you will hit the jackpot — or else, like a Gold Rush 49er, you will go bust trying. 
Win or lose, you’re not looking for testimonials — or, for that matter, any grand 
collective mission. When you notice that we’ve made your generation an equal 
partner to all the others in our saga, you might be half pleased, half alarmed: 
To be an equal partner means history might be counting on you, and you’re not 
quite ready for that. 

Our 13er reader knows perfectly well what your elders seldom admit: Yours 
is an ill-timed lifecycle. You experienced the “Consciousness Revolution” of 
the late 1960s and 1970s from a child’s perspective — and, like Louisa May 
Alcott, you had to grow up fast to survive in a world of parental self-immersion 
or even neglect. You’re tired of gauzy talk about Woodstock, born-again ex- 
hippies, and TV shows full of Boomers too busy whining about problems to 
solve them. Your generational consciousness is on the rise. You may already 
sense that it is just a matter of time before you and your peers snap into cultural 
focus and, as Sinclair Lewis did with snooty ‘Babbitts,” start trimming the sails 
of your smug next-elders. You take justifiable pride in your pragmatism, but 
watch out: It has its limits. A popular 13er putdown is “That’s history,” trans- 
lated to mean “That’s irrelevant.” Wrong. We urge you to look eyeball to 
eyeball with other “Reactive” types — especially at those generations (like Cap- 
tain Kidd’s, Benedict Arnold’s, William Quantrill’s, and A1 Capone’s) whose 
entire lifecycle was spent dodging the criticism and mistrust of others. They 
produced many of America’s toughest leaders, most effective warriors, most 
scathingly perceptive artists, and (of course) most successful entrepreneurs. But 
so too did many of their members bum out young, turn traitor, endure heaps of 
blame, and suffer a difficult old age. 

Regardless of your generation or current phase of life, chances are you share 
the commonly held view that your own peers’ recent lifecycle experiences are 
the norm. In each case, you may believe that other generations could or should 
think and behave like you at whatever phase of life you have recently completed. 
If a G.I., you probably regard retirement as a natural opportunity to stay active 
within your own community and reap the economic rewards of a lifetime of 
purposeful labor. If a Silent, you may believe that reaching the age of forty or 



PREFACE 


13 


fifty inevitably triggers a midlife “passage,” an abrupt and liberating personality 
shift. If a Boomer, you may see spiritual self-discovery as the very essence of 
being a 25-year-old. If a 13er, you may find it hard to imagine how any teenager 
would not instinctively reduce such issues as courtship, schooling, and career 
choice to their practical, matter-of-fact essentials. Whatever your peer group, 
you feel that something is out of joint when your next-juniors turn out differently. 
Let us reassure you: Americans have felt much the same sense of generational 
warp for centuries. By nature, we all want to believe in an unvarying lifecycle; 
this makes life more predictable and hence more manageable. That is not, how- 
ever, how generations work. It isn’t true in the early 1990s, it wasn’t true during 
the circa-1970 “generation gap,” nor was it true in 1950 or 1930 — nor, for that 
matter, in 1830, 1730, or 1630. 

Much of the stress in cross-generational relationships arises when people of 
different ages expect others to behave in ways their peer personalities won’t 
allow. Plainly, this happened between G.I.s and Boomers in the late 1960s. It 
has recently started happening again, albeit with less noise and fanfare, this time 
between Boomers and 13ers. Poll today’s collegians and ask them which gen- 
eration they like the least; then ask fortyish professionals which generation they 
think has the least to offer. The answer, in each case, will be the other. Boomers 
and 13ers are coming to recognize how unlike each other they are; as yet, neither 
side realizes that this personality clash will endure, and almost certainly sharpen, 
over the next decade. This is nothing new. For centuries, “Idealist” generations 
have invariably come of age mounting a highly symbolic attack against their 
aging “Civic” elders — and have later entered midlife engaging in a bitter conflict 
with their “Reactive” next-juniors. No other generational type shares this 
lifecycle pattern of conflict. “Civics,” for instance, have typically found late- 
in-life battles with their twentyish children so difficult because they could recall 
nothing like it from their own youth, while “Adaptives” have been spared from 
overt generational conflict throughout their lives — often to their inner frustration. 

One of our purposes in writing this book is to dispel the illusion of generational 
sameness. In doing so, we hope to promote more reciprocal understanding and 
more mutual respect among the very unalike generations alive today. 

The timing and authorship of this book may indeed reflect the workings of 
the cycle we describe. Many have told us this book could only have been written 
by Boomers, which indeed your authors are (from the 1947 and 1951 cohorts). 
True, some of the finest generational biographies ever published — including 
Passages and Private Lives — have been written by Silent authors. Yet Boomers 
remain the twentieth century’s most generation-conscious peer group, one that 
has overwhelmed all thinking about the subject over the past few decades. As 
Boomers come to dominate the media, the word “generation” is today being 
heard more often in news, entertainment, and advertising than at any time since 
the late 1960s. 

We attribute this, in part, to renewed stirrings of Boomer spiritualism in 



14 


PREFACE 


public life — and to the present location of Boomers at the center of multigener- 
ational family trees. Your authors know that feeling quite well. At one end of 
our own families, we see surviving parents and stepparents, all G.I.s, all faring 
very well in comparison with what we remember of the (Lost) elders of our 
youth — and all looking upon the current drift of America with a mixture of public 
concern and private detachment. At the other end are our Millennial Generation 
children, bom in the mid-1980s, about whose future adult Americans of all ages 
are beginning to worry. Between us, we have four children: two 13ers, two 
Millennials, perhaps more to come. Like many of our peers, we recognize that 
an instinct for teamwork and cooperation — something G.I.s have always had 
and Boomers came of age rejecting — may well make sense for the new Millen- 
nials just now coming onstage. 

Both of us have separately written on generational topics for many years. In 
quite different ways, we each came across what we call the “generational di- 
agonal.” Our earlier books focused mainly on Boomers and G.I.s — Strauss’ on 
the Vietnam War, Howe’s on federal entitlements programs. We wondered why 
these two generations developed such entirely different ways of looking at the 
world: G.I.s seeing themselves (even in old age) as uniquely productive, Boomers 
seeing themselves (even in youth) as uniquely sagacious. We were fascinated 
by the curious 1970s-era resolution of the generation gap between them — an 
implicit deal in which G.I.s achieved economic independence (and spent the 
post- Vietnam fiscal “peace dividend” almost entirely on themselves) while 
Boomers asserted their social independence. In each case, this came at a cost: 
Aging G.I.s gave up cultural and spiritual authority, and Boomers abandoned 
any realistic prospect of matching their elders’ late-in-life economic rewards. 
We wondered what it was about the very different growing-up experiences 
of G.I.s and Boomers that prompted such behavior, and whether any earlier 
American generations had ever acted along the same lines. We discovered 
that they had. 

As we stretched our search for analogues back through the centuries, the 
panoramic outline of our generational saga began emerging. Again and again, 
this lifecycle approach to history revealed a similar and recurring pattern, one 
that coincided with many of the well-known rhythms pulsing through American 
history. We found ourselves with new answers to old riddles that have puzzled 
historians: why, for example, great public emergencies in America seem to arrive 
every eighty or ninety years — and why great spiritual upheavals arrive roughly 
halfway in between. 

If we had in fact discovered a cycle, we knew the proof had to lie in its 
predictive possibilities. We decided then and there to write a last chapter on the 
future. Not many academicians take well to crystal-ball theories of history, but 
without predictions (what Karl Popper once called “falsifiability”) any road 
map of history ends just where the reader begins to find it interesting. In advancing 
his own cycle theory about alternating eras of liberal activity and conservative 



PREFACE 


15 


quiescence, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., has made some very date-specific predic- 
tions — for example, that America is now poised for a sharp pivot back toward 
1960s-style activism. While we harbor doubts about that prognosis (for reasons 
we explain in Chapter 6), we credit Schlesinger for pioneering the cycle approach 
to American history and for giving his reader the measure by which his theory 
can be tested. The same is true for our forecasts: Time will surely tell. The 
events of the next few years will not explain much. Ten years will reveal 
something, twenty years quite a bit, and forty years will close the case, one way 
or the other. 

Anyone who claims to possess a vision of the future must present it with due 
modesty, since no mortal can possibly foresee how fate may twist and turn. 
Readers who encounter this book fifty years from now will no doubt find Chapter 
13 odd in much of its detail. But it is not our purpose to predict specific events; 
rather, our purpose is to explain how the underlying dynamic of generational 
change will determine which sorts of events are most likely. No one, for example, 
can foretell the specific emergency that will confront America during what we 
call the “Crisis of 2020“ — nor, of course, the exact year in which this crisis 
will find its epicenter. What we do claim our cycle can predict is that, during 
the late 2010s and early 2020s, American generations will pass deep into a 
“Crisis Era” constellation and mood — and that, as a consequence, the nation’s 
public life will undergo a swift and possibly revolutionary transformation. 

The sum total of our predictions does not present an idealized portrait of 
America’s future, but rather an honest depiction of where the generational cycle 
says the nation is headed. When reading Chapter 13, most readers will feel mixed 
emotions about what we foresee happening over the next several decades. What- 
ever your values or politics, you will surely find some things that please you 
and others that do not. You may also be surprised to find only passing mention 
of many subjects — from space-age technology to the shifting fortunes of political 
parties — that weigh so large in most speculations about the future. In our view, 
the timeless dynamic of human relationships comes first and matters most. While 
others may describe the technology with which America will send a manned 
spacecraft to the planet Mars, for example, we tell you something else: When 
America’s leaders and voters will want this flight to happen; why; which gen- 
eration will fly it; and how the nation will feel about it at the time and afterward. 

We acknowledge this to be an ambitious book, with wholly new interpretations 
of important moments in American history — from the persecution of Salem 
witches to the rise of Wall Street yuppies. We admit, of course, that the gen- 
erational cycle cannot explain everything. Were history so easily compartment- 
alized, it would lose not just its mystery, but also much of its hope, passion, 
and triumph. What we do insist is that generations offer an important perspective 
on human events, from the great deeds of public leaders to the day-to-day lives 
of ordinary people. We urge those who believe in other theories of history (or 
in no theory at all) to consider how ours can at times help explain the otherwise 



16 


PREFACE 


unexplainable. Many readers may well remain unpersuaded about the cycle, at 
least until more time passes. To skeptical historians in particular, we suggest 
you suspend your disbelief long enough to take a hard look at the generational 
diagonal. Historians seldom write biographies — and, all too often, recount events 
without the lifecycle perspective of what we call “people moving through time.” 
Generations and history share an important two-way relationship — not just in 
America, and not just in the modem era. 

In Part II, where we describe the peer personalities of America’s eighteen 
generations, we could not always feature a totally representative sample of the 
population. Sometimes, for example, we had to limit the attention given to 
women and minorities — either because not as much is known about them or 
because we wanted to refer to actors and events that most readers would rec- 
ognize. Yet while the generation is, almost by definition, a majoritarian social 
unit, the concept has much to say both about sex roles and about issues of class 
or race. No comparison of G.I.s with Boomers (or the Glorious with Awakeners) 
can overlook the stunning contrasts in their respective attitudes toward femininity 
and masculinity. Likewise, no comparison of the Silent with 13ers (or Progres- 
sives with the Lost) can make sense without mentioning their contrasting opinions 
about ethnic and racial pluralism. 

The generational cycle indeed raises important questions about when and how 
certain racial, ethnic, and women’s issues arise. Every major period of racial 
unrest — from the Stono Uprising of 1739 to Nat Turner’s Rebellion of 1831, 
from W.E.B. DuBois’ black consciousness movement of the early twentieth 
century to the long hot summers of the late 1960s — has started during what we 
call an “Awakening’’ constellation of generational types. Similarly, the widest 
gaps between acceptable male and female sex roles have taken place during an 
“Outer-Driven’’ constellation. Where we consider these issues especially im- 
portant to our story, we discuss them. But this book is mainly about generations 
as units, not subgroups within them. We encourage specialists among our readers, 
-whatever their backgrounds, to shed more light on the component pieces of the 
generational puzzle. We would be delighted to see others write on the generational 
history of any ethnic group, for example — or about the generational dynamic 
behind changes in technology, the arts, or family life. In fact, the biography of 
any single generation could easily be expanded to book length. Apart from our 
own capsule summary of the G.I.s, no one has ever written even a short biography 
of that generation. Is there a G.I. somewhere who will? 

Much work remains to be done in this barely tapped field. We invite debate 
about our interpretation of social moments, our generational boundaries, and our 
peer personality descriptions. This book may be the first word on many of these 
subjects; we hope it will not be the last. In particular, we encourage experts 
familiar with other nationalities — from China to Eastern Europe, the Middle East 
to Latin America — to examine the dynamic of generational change in societies 



PREFACE 


17 


other than our own. Such inquiry might identify deviations in the generational 
cycle (like America’s Civil War anomaly) and suggest how our theory of gen- 
erations might be refined to account for the full range of human experience. 

We hope to persuade specialists among our readers that the study of gener- 
ational (and lifecycle) behavior is of major importance. Those who assemble 
data can help by sorting them around birth cohorts as well as around fixed age 
brackets, and by repeating old polls taken one or more generations earlier, to 
update cohort and age-bracket responses. Historians can similarly help the study 
of generations by offering cohort-specific information whenever possible. To aid 
the research of others, we are providing extensive bibliographic notes and (in 
Appendix B) a summary of new data we have compiled on each generation’s 
numerical representation in Congress and state governorships. 

Each of the eighteen generational biographies required substantial research 
into not just the history, but also the historiography of each era — not just what 
happened, but how and why historians have interpreted events as they did. 
Accordingly, this book posed unique research problems. There were no shortcuts. 
Our efforts to piece together separate generational lifecycles were impeded by 
the way many historians tend to blur cohort experiences. The typical chapter on 
the history of childhood, for instance, focuses mainly on linear change, blending 
together experiences over time spans as long as a century. To discover what 
happened to specific cohort groups required laborious detective work — some- 
times poring through many articles or books just to confirm an observation 
covered here in less than a sentence. Whatever our challenge, we were aided 
immeasurably by the many fine social histories published over the past two 
decades — especially the phase-of-life histories about childhood, adolescence, or 
old age. We have also been blessed by the recent research findings of a small 
but growing number of historians and social scientists who concentrate specif- 
ically on cohort analysis. Had we or anyone else written this book as recently 
as 1970, it would have been far poorer in texture and detail. 

We ask our reader to approach this book in the same manner we came to the 
subject — inductively , as a gradual discovery of something very new. Yes, we 
sometimes use terms you may find unfamiliar at first, like “cohorts” and “spir- 
itual awakenings.” When necessary, we even invent our own terms, including 
typologies of generations and of “constellational” eras. Our glossary defines all 
these terms, for easy reference. We urge our reader to enliven these concepts 
with your own experience and imagination. Whether or not you agree with our 
vision of America’s future, we hope you will find our approach useful in clar- 
ifying your own view of the next decade and century. 

Whatever your generation — G.I., Silent, Boom, 13th — you will learn, as we 
have, how every generation has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own 
opportunities for triumph and tragedy. Yes, there are implicit messages here — 
for example, about how each generation should apply its unique gifts for the 



18 


PREFACE 


benefit of its heirs. But our object here is less to judge than to understand. In 
the words of the great German scholar Leopold von Ranke, who weighed so 
many Old World generations on the scales of history, “before God all the 
generations of humanity appear equally justified.” In “any generation,” he 
concluded, “real moral greatness is the same as in any other. ...” 



Acknowledgments 


"H 

L listorical generations are not bom,” Robert Wohl once said. “They 
are made.” Surely the “making” of Generations involved far more than just 
the work of two coauthors. We consider this book to be an interpretive gathering 
of many disciplines, each reflecting the important achievements of a number of 
scholars, journalists, pollsters, and friends — several of whom deserve mention. 

On the concept of the generation itself, we were aided immeasurably by the 
writings of Julian Marias, himself a disciple of Jose Ortega y Gasset. We also 
must credit Anthony Esler, who has kept the “generations approach” alive in 
American academic circles over the last two decades. On cycles, we acknowledge 
the pioneering work of the two Arthur Schlesingers, who have demonstrated 
that an oscillating political and social mood can coincide with American-style 
progress. We have William McLoughlin to thank for his discovery of important 
parallels between periodic “awakenings” and Samuel Huntington for being the 
first to see the relationship between awakenings and what we call secular crises. 

In our depiction of historical cycles through the nineteenth century, we are 
indebted to those modem social historians who have uncovered so many im- 
portant clues about cohort and age-bracket behavior. On matters of childhood, 
we especially thank Oscar Handlin, Mary Cable, Ray Hiner, Joseph Hawes, 
Peter Gregg Slater, Robert Bremner, and David Nasaw; for education, Bernard 
Bailyn, Frederick Rudolph, Carl Kaestle, and Lawrence Cremin; for adolescence, 
the work of Joseph Kett stands out; and for old age, David Hackett Fischer, 


IQ 



20 


ACKNO WLEDG MENTS 


David Stannard, and Andrew Achenbaum. In identifying generational shifts in 
family life, we should mention John Demos, Barbara Welter, Edmund Morgan, 
Daniel Blake Smith, Jan Lewis, Nancy Cott, and Carl Degler; in community 
life, Philip Greven, Christine Heyrman, Richard Bushman, Michael Zuckerman, 
Robert Gross, and Mary Ryan; in spiritual life, Perry Miller, Sydney Ahlstrom, 
Alan Heimert, Ernest Lee Tuveson, Cushing Strout, and Nathan Hatch; and in 
the new perspectives of what we might call “psychohistorical themes of gen- 
erational conflict,” Emory Elliott, Jay Fliegelman, Peter Shaw, Pauline Maier, 
Michael Kammen, Michael Paul Rogin, and George Forgie. We commend Peter 
Charles Hoffer for his expert and pathbreaking application of a formal lifecycle 
model (Erik Erikson’s) to a historical generation (Republican). 

We also credit those historians (especially J. C. Furnas, William Manchester, 
Daniel Boorstin, Carl Bridenbaugh, Wade Smith, Robert Remini, Richard Hof- 
stadter, Henry Steele Commager, Franklin Frazier, and Frederick Lewis Allen) 
who gave as much attention to private as to public lives — and, in doing so, 
revealed important phase-of-life information. We should give special praise to 
historian Ann Douglas, who in The Feminization of the American Culture pro- 
vides exactly the kind of birthyear and cohort-focused information that gener- 
ational analysis requires. And, of course, anyone writing a book like this needs 
a standard historical reference, and for that we thank the incomparable Samuel 
Eliot Morison. 

For modem generations, we thank Paula Fass, William Manchester, William 
O’Neill, Todd Gitlin, and Landon Jones for their histories; Malcolm Cowley, 
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Benita Eisler, Annie Gottlieb, Cheryl Merser, and Wanda 
Urbanska for their generational biographies; Gail Sheehy, Daniel Levinson, and 
Betty Friedan for their lifecycle observations; Robert and Alice Lynd for their 
keen-eyed observations on American town life in the early twentieth century; 
and Harold Steams and Huston Smith for compiling the best single written records 
of the national mood and generational relationships of the 1930s and 1950s, 
respectively. For the separate phases of life, we have Marie Winn, Vivian Zelizer, 
and Neil Postman to credit for their inquiries into modem childhood; Kenneth 
Keniston, Lewis Feuer, and Kett again for adolescence; and Bernice Neugarten, 
William Graebner, Samuel Preston, Alan Pifer, and Fischer again for old age. 
We are grateful to Atlantic and Esquire magazines for their penetrating essays 
on generational mind-sets; to Leonard Cain, whose cohort analysis is the best 
defense of a generational boundary ever written; and to Nancy Smith, Shann 
Nix, and Patrick Welsh for the most probing accounts to date of the 13er mood. 

For our modem data, we owe a great debt to two fine 1980s-era magazines. 
Public Opinion and American Demographics (and, especially, to Karlyn Keene 
and Cheryl Russell for their helpful familiarity with opinion polls); to the Gallup, 
Harris, Roper, and Yankelovich polling organizations; to the quarter-century of 
work at UCLA (Alexander Astin) and the University of Michigan (Jerald Bach- 
man) for their ongoing youth surveys; to Warner Schaie of Pennsylvania State 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 


21 


University and his one-of-a-kind Seattle Longitudinal Study; to John Keane, Bill 
Butz, and their many colleagues at the U.S. Census Bureau; and to the many 
other helpful individuals in the Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Center for 
Health Statistics, Public Health Service, Social Security Administration, National 
Taxpayers Union, and Children’s Defense Fund. 

This book has been aided by innumerable conversations, probably reaching 
into the thousands, with members of each of the four major living generations. 
We extend our thanks to Doug Lea of American University, who has been our 
principal link with 13er students from dozens of colleges around the nation. We 
particularly thank our own 13er-on-the-job, Kelly Stewart, for tabulating some 
15,000 Congressmen, governors, and justices by birthyear and thereby reducing 
mountains of data into usable form. We are likewise grateful to the well-equipped 
libraries of Georgetown University and of Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia. 

We owe special credit to our editor, Adrian Zackheim, for his patience 
throughout a long and difficult project; our agent and partner-in-planning, Rafe 
Sagalyn, whose confidence in our task kept us hard at it; Pete Peterson and Jim 
Sebenius, for introducing us to each other; the Honorable Albert Gore, Charles 
Percy, and John Porter, for their encouragement and advice; Jim Davidson, Paul 
Hewitt, David Keating, and Phil Longman, for their counsel in the early stages 
of this project; Tipper Gore and Marilyn Ferguson, for their counsel in its late 
stages; and the helpful readers of raw manuscript — Alan Crawford, Peter d’Epiro, 
Robert Horn, Richard Jackson, Jeremy Kaplan, William Lane, Doug Lea, 
Robert Quartel, David Werner, Richard Willard, and Ernest Wilson. We are 
also grateful to Elaina Newport, Jim Aidala, and other good friends and col- 
leagues with the Capitol Steps for the kind of social commentary you can get 
nowhere else. 

Finally, we thank our special G.I. consultants enfamille (Suzy Strauss, Margot 
Howe, Mary Kamps); our Canadian repository of insights on European gener- 
ations (Carla Massobrio); our wives, Janie and Simona, for their tireless critiques 
of endless drafts; and our children, Melanie, Victoria, Eric, and Rebecca— who, 
along with the rest of our families, have cheerfully accepted a years-long invasion 
of tall stacks of books and photocopies, the clickety-clack of word processors, 
constant chatter about Transcendental this and Silent that, and the many other 
perils of living with the sort of people who would write this sort of book. 

We also thank our reader, for taking the time. 


Bill Strauss 
Neil Howe 
October 1990 







Contents 


Preface . 7 

Acknowledgments 19 

Chapter 1 People Moving Through Time 27 

PART I: THE CYCLE 

Chapter 2 Life Along the Generational Diagonal . .. 43 

Chapter 3 Belonging to a 4 ‘Generation” 58 

Chapter 4 The Four-Part Cycle 69 

Chapter 5 The Cycle in America 80 

Chapter 6 From Puritans to Millennial and Beyond 97 

PART II: THE GENERATIONS 

Chapter 7 The Colonial Cycle 113 

Puritans ..121 

Cavaliers .......... 129 

Glorious 137 

Enlighteners 144 

Chapter 8 The Revolutionary Cycle 151 

Awakeners 156 



24 


CONTENTS 


Liberty 164 

Republicans 172 

Compromisers 181 

Chapter 9 The Civil War Cycle 190 

Transcendentals 195 

Gilded 206 

Progressives 217 

Chapter 10 The Great Power Cycle 228 

Missionaries 233 

Lost 247 

G.I.s 261 

Silent 279 

Chapter 1 1 The Millennial Cycle 295 

Boomers 299 

13ers 317 

Millennial 335 

PART III: THE FUTURE 

Chapter 12 The Past as Prologue 347 

Chapter 13 Completing the Millennial Cycle 374 

Chapter 14 The Beginning of History 425 

Table: The Generational Cycle in America 428 

Glossary 429 

Appendix A: A Theory of Generations 433 

Appendix B: American Political Leadership by Generation 455 

Notes on Sources 465 

Index 521 



There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some 
generations much is given. Of other generations much 
is expected. This generation has a rendezvous with 
destiny. 


— Franklin Delano Roosevelt , 1936 




Chapter 1 


PEOPLE MOVING 
THROUGH TIME 


T 

A wenty-eight years had passed, but the message to other generations remained 
the same. George Bush’s inaugural parade, like John Kennedy’s in 1961 , featured 
a full-scale model of his vehicle of valor: in Bush’s case a Grumman Avenger 
fighter plane, in Kennedy’s a PT-class torpedo boat. When Bush bailed out over 
ChiChi Jima, Michael Dukakis was a fifth-grader in Brookline, Massachusetts. 
Dukakis later served in Korea, but when he sat atop a tank in his Presidential 
campaign, people laughed. It just wasn’t the same. Back in 1944, Illinois Gov- 
ernor Jim Thompson had been in the second grade, three years behind Dukakis. 
“You don’t need to be shot down from the sky to know the world is a dangerous 
place,’’ Thompson remarked about Bush, “but my guess is it sure helps.’’ 
Marching alongside these two parade floats, both times, were saluting vet- 
erans — with one important difference. At Kennedy’s inaugural, the float-bearers 
were men of “vigor’’ in their late thirties and forties, celebrating their arrival 
into national leadership. At Bush’s, the vets were in their late sixties and sev- 
enties, evoking more remembrance than hope. Time marches on. The aging 
paraders had to realize that 1989 would be the last time America would salute 
the triumphant Presidential arrival of a World War II combat hero. At age 20, 
George Bush had been among the Navy’s youngest fighter pilots when he was 
shot down over the Pacific. Almost certainly, the next American President will 
walk down Pennsylvania Avenue having known that war through a child’s eyes — 
or, perhaps, through nothing more than history books and film clips. When that 



28 


GENERATIONS 


happens, Americans of all ages will feel something missing. 

In the thirty years from 1961 through 1990 (and counting), the American 
Presidency has been the exclusive preserve of men who ranged in age from 17 
to 34 on Pearl Harbor Sunday, men belonging to what we call the G.I. Generation. 
Never before in the nation’s history has one generation held the White House 
so long. Few others have exercised such massive power over public events in 
each phase of life. From youth to old age, the G.I.s have been the confident 
and rational problem-solvers of twentieth-century America, the ones who knew 
how to get things done — first as victorious soldiers and Rosie the Riveters, later 
as builders of rockets and highways, lastly as aging Presidents in the era of 
democracy’s economic triumph over communism. 

The G.I. lifecycle bears the imprint of the threshold moments that catapulted 
America into its modem superpower era. The first G.I. babies were bom in 
1901 , and the last will turn 75 in the year 1999 — a span exactly coinciding with 
the “American Century’’ of economic growth, technological progress, and 
(mostly) military triumph. Following a debauched and dispirited “Lost Gener- 
ation,’’ they brought cheerfulness, public spirit, and collective muscle to every 
problem they encountered. Older generations once looked upon them as good 
scouts with a mission of civic virtue. Decades later, younger generations came 
to see them as powerful and friendly, if also culturally complacent and overly 
“macho.” From childhood on, G.I.s have defined what contemporary America 
means by citizenship , that two-way symbiosis between man and government. In 
the person of George Bush, America clings to one last dose of that old war-hero 
“right stuff,” uncertain about what the future will be like without G.I.s at the 
helm. 

Contemplating this generation’s inevitable passing from power, we have been 
waving it goodbye much as we would a beloved family member whose train is 
pulling out of a station — a station we could call midlife. But let’s walk down 
the track a bit. For some time now, this same train has been pulling into another 
station: elderhood. 

The expression “senior citizen” is so much a part of our modem vocabulary 
that we forget how new it is — and how it did not come into wide use until the 
first peers of these seven G.I. Presidents started to reach old age. As with every 
other life phase, G.I.s have infused old age with uncommon collective energy. 
In the early 1960s, the elderly were America’s unhappiest, loneliest, and poorest 
age bracket. Politically, they tended to be unorganized, Republican-leaning, and 
hostile to government. Yet over the last quarter century, all these attributes have 
reversed direction. Polls now show most people over age 65 to be happy and 
socially assertive, members of an exploding list of senior clubs, condo associ- 
ations, and lobbying groups. They are no longer fixed-income, thanks to inflation- 
indexed government benefits. Meanwhile, the elderly poverty rate has fallen 
from the highest of any age bracket (in the mid-1960s) to well below the rate 
for children and young adults (today). Of all circa- 1990 age groups, these elders 



PEOPLE MOVING THROUGH TIME 


29 


are the heaviest- voting and by far the most Democratic-leaning, with polls show- 
ing them overwhelmingly supportive of big government. Yes, we can still find 
an elder age bracket whose members are substantially lonely, poor, and Repub- 
lican. But they are not G.I.s. These very old people, mostly in their nineties, 
are the dwindling survivors of the Lost Generation. 

How do we explain this dramatic change in what it means to be old in America, 
this sudden transformation both in the behavior of people past their middle sixties 
and in the treatment they receive from their juniors? We could, on the one hand, 
attribute it to a variety of complex, apparently unrelated factors: public policy, 
demographics, social and economic trends, changing family attitudes, and so 
on. Alternatively, we could attribute it to the gradual replacement of one gen- 
eration by another in the elder age bracket. Let’s put it schematically: Is it easier 
to explain why 75-year-olds transformed from Type X in 1965 to Type Y in 
1990, or to explain how the Y-like 50-year-olds we remember from 1965 aged 
into the Y-like 75-year-olds of 1990? The latter is by far the better explanation. 
Separate generations are aging in place . 

Over the last quarter century, G.I.s have moved up the age ladder a notch, 
transforming elderhood the way they once did every other phase of life. Seldom 
do we draw any connection among America’s first Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, 
Charles Lindbergh, CCC tree-planters and TV A dam-builders, D-Day troops, 
Levittowners, Stan “the Man” Musial, Jim and Betty Anderson of Father Knows 
Best , Kennedy’s “best and brightest,” General Westmoreland, Reagan-Shultz- 
Weinberger, and the American Association of Retired Persons. We greet the 
G.I. train (and, later, bid it farewell) at each station, but not many of us recognize 
it as the same train. 

Is this an isolated case? To consider this question, let’s extend our railroad 
analogy. Picture one long lifecycle track , with birth the place of origin and death 
the destination. Imagine phase-of-life stations along the way, from childhood to 
elderhood. Now picture a series of generational trains , all heading down the 
track at the same speed. While the G.I. train is moving from one station to the 
next, other trains are also rolling down the track. If we picture ourselves sitting 
at any given station watching one train go and another arrive, we notice how 
different each train looks from the next. 

Replacing the G.I.s at the midlife station, and overdue for a turn at Presidential 
leadership, is the Silent Generation train — carrying men and women who came 
of age too late for World War II combat and too early to feel the heat of the 
Vietnam draft. These were the unobtrusive children of depression and war, the 
conformist “Lonely Crowd,” Grace Kelly and Elvis Presley, young newlyweds 
with bulging nurseries, Peace Corps volunteers, the “outside agitators” of the 
Mississippi Summer, the middle managers of an expanding public sector, di- 
vorced parents of multichild households, makers of R-rated movies, Hugh Hefner 
and Gloria Steinem, space-shuttle technocrats and supply-side economists, Gary 
Hart and Mike Dukakis, litigators and arbitrators, Jim Henson, the MacNeil- 



30 


GENERATIONS 


Lehrer NewsHour, and the less colorful cabinet officials in the Bush adminis- 
tration. Back in the 1960s, we used to think of 55-year-olds as homogeneous 
and self-confident — dingers to worn marriages and brittle proponents of a bland 
culture under siege from the young. In 1990, 55-year-olds dance to rock music 
and wink at unmarried kids who bring a date home for the night. They are 
sentimental pluralists, easy touches for charity, inclined to see two sides to every 
issue — and not especially surefooted. Today’s midlifers dominate the helping 
professions and have provided late-twentieth-century America with its most com- 
mitted civil rights advocates and public interest lawyers — and most of its best- 
known sexual swingers, feminists, and out-of-the-closet gays. A quarter century 
ago, we would never have associated a crowd like this with the peak years of 
adult power. Now we do. 

At the rising-adult station, behind the Silent, comes the best-known of all 
American generations: the Boomers, who came to college after Eisenhower and 
before the Carter malaise of 1979. These were the babies of optimism and hubris, 
Beaver Cleaver and Mouseketeers, the post-Sputnik high school kids whose SAT 
scores declined for seventeen straight years, student strikers, flower-child hippies 
and draft resisters, Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell, yuppie singles avoiding 
attachment, Gilda Radner and Oprah Winfrey, grass-roots evangelicals, Lamaze 
parents, Oliver North and William Bennett, oat-bran eaters and Perrier drinkers, 
Earth Firsters, and antidrug crusaders. This Boom Generation has totally trans- 
formed its current phase of life. Reflect back on a typical man- woman couple 
approaching age 40 around 1970. They had been married for almost two decades, 
with children nearing college age. Their family income was rising swiftly. They 
emulated their elders, envied their juniors, and disliked the suggestion that any 
one set of values was superior to another. Contrast that picture with the typical 
“thirty something” couple of today. The woman has worked since college. Pos- 
sibly they are married, and just as possibly they are not. Possibly their income 
is rising, and just as possibly it is stagnating or falling behind inflation. At most, 
they have two children, none beyond elementary school. They firmly believe in 
values. Intensely self-immersed, they neither emulate nor envy people older or 
younger than themselves. A quarter century ago, such a couple would have stood 
out as hard-luck misfits. But don’t tell Boomers that. Polls show their level of 
self-satisfaction is quite high and remarkably unrelated to their income or family 
status. 

The next generational train rolls into the coming-of-age station wearing 
shades, averting the critical glare of the adult world. We have seen this generation 
before. These were the first babies American women took pills not to have, 
Rosemary’s Baby , the children of sharply rising divorce and poverty rates, pupils 
in experimental classrooms without walls, latchkey kids, precocious Gary Cole- 
man and Tatum O’Neal, pubescents of the sex-obsessed 1970s, Valley girls, 
college students criticized by one blue-ribbon commission after another, young 



PEOPLE MOVING THROUGH TIME 


31 


singles of the post-AIDS social scene, inner-city drug entrepreneurs, “boom- 
erang” children living at home after college, the best-qualified recruits in military 
history, the hard-nosed invaders of Panama, and the defenders of Persian Gulf 
oil. In the late 1960s, 21 -year-olds were considered radicals, the conscience of 
America, and they drew the respect of the adult world they were attacking. 
Today, kids in their early twenties comprise America’s most Republican-leaning 
age bracket. They associate smoothly and compliantly with elders — who, for 
their part, express disappointment in how they are turning out. To date, this 
generation has no consensus name. We label it the 13th Generation — partly for 
the gauntlet its members see in its “bad” reputation, also in recognition that it 
is the thirteenth to know the American nation and flag. 

Last comes a train still taking on passengers, with adult America heralding 
its departure. These tots are entering a childhood today’s collegians would hardly 
recognize. Check out their brief lifecycle, and you will find the first test-tube 
babies, “Everybody’s Baby” Jessica McClure rescued from a Midland well, 
Superbabies, the diapered stars of Raising Arizona and Three Men and a Baby , 
KinderCare Kids, “Baby M” and Hilary Morgan at the center of custody dis- 
putes, inner-city kindergartners in uniform, little “Dooney” saved from the 
crack house, George Bush’s Hispanic grandchildren, and the high school Class 
of 2000 whom President Bush, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and 
numerous others have already targeted as a smarter, better-behaving, and more 
civic-spirited wave of American youth. Any community trying to treat its children 
this way in the late 1960s would have been condemned as culturally totalitarian. 
But in the early 1980s, adults began to look upon childhood quite differently — 
spawning a new Millennial Generation, the first of whom will indeed come of 
age around the year 2000. 

As Millennial keep climbing aboard, adding close to four million new pas- 
sengers every year, two trains are reaching the end of the line: the very old Lost, 
peers of Eisenhower, Truman, and F. Scott Fitzgerald; and a smattering of 
supercentenarians from Franklin Roosevelt’s Missionary Generation. One other 
train we would have seen in the 1960s, Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Gen- 
eration, has disappeared entirely. 

In Figure 1-1, we list the schedule of generational trains, in 1969 and now. 
Over this twenty-two-year period, seven have been alive at any one time. 

Leaving aside the very old and very young, America today has four generations 
that form what we call a generational “constellation,” the lineup of living 
generations ordered by phase of life. The constellation is always aging, always 
shifting, moving up one lifecycle notch roughly every twenty-two years. Youths 
come of age, rising adults reach midlife, midlifers reach elderhood, elders pass 
on (or reach advanced old age) — and a new set of babies enters youth. Whenever 
the constellation shifts up by one notch , the behavior and attitudes of each phase 
of life change character entirely. Unmistakably, this happened between the late 



32 


GENERATIONS 


FIGURE 1-1 

Living American Generations 



GENERATION 

BIRTHYEARS 

AGE IN 1969 

AGE IN 1991 

Progressive 

1843-1859 

109 + 

( not alive ) 

Missionary 

1860-1882 

86-108 

108 + 

Lost 

1883-1900 

68-85 

90-107 

G.I. 

1901-1924 

44-67 

66-89 

Silent 

1925-1942 

26-43 

48-65 

Boom 

1943-1960 

8-25 

30-47 

Thirteenth 

1961-1981 

0-7 

9-29 

Millennial 

1982- ? 

( not alive ) 

0-8 


1960s and now. It also happened between World War II and Vietnam, between 
World War I and II, between the Gay Nineties and World War I — and, indeed, 
through all of American history. 

The generational constellation establishes our snapshot impression of the 
American lifecycle of the moment, from the seventeenth century through the 
present day. If, in any one year or decade, we were to picture what it was then 
like to be a child, a young adult, middle-aged, or old, our composite impression 
would be a hodgepodge of segments from very different generational lifecycles. 
Piece together these constellational snapshots in a decade-by-decade newsreel 
of an evolving American lifecycle, and the picture becomes hopelessly confusing. 

In this book, we suggest looking at the American lifecycle as it has actually 
been lived by each generation, from childhood through old age. Using our earlier 
analogy, we suggest looking at the lifecycle from the perspective of trains rather 
than stations. At any given moment, we can see as many different lifecycle 
stories, as many different trains, as the number of generations then alive. 

We treat generations as people moving through time, each group or generation 
of people possessing a distinctive sense of self. We look at history just as an 
individual looks at his own life. We explain how a generation is shaped by its 
“age location” — that is, by its age-determined participation in epochal events 
that occur during its lifecycle. During childhood and, especially, during the 
coming-of-age experiences separating youth from adulthood, this age location 
produces what we call a “peer personality” — a set of collective behavioral traits 
and attitudes that later expresses itself throughout a generation’s lifecycle tra- 
jectory. 

Because the peer personality of each generational type shows new manifes- 
tations in each phase of life, and because it is determined by the constellation 



PEOPLE MOVING THROUGH TIME 


33 


into which it is bom (a pattern that is forever shifting), the ongoing interplay of 
peer personalities gives history a dynamic quality. How children are raised affects 
how they later parent. How students are taught affects how they later teach. 
How youths come of age shapes their later exercise of leadership — which, in 
turn, substantially defines the coming-of-age experiences of others. This push 
and pull between generations moves synchronously with other alternating patterns 
in American history: for example, between periods of public action and private 
introspection, secularism and spiritualism, cultural suffocation and liberation, 
fragmentation and consensus, overprotective and underprotective nurture of chil- 
dren. 

As we examine these pendular movements, a startling pattern emerges: a 
recurring cycle of four distinct types of peer personalities , arriving in the same 
repeating sequence. From the sixteenth century forward, this cycle has been 
constantly turning. It has shown only one aberration, following the Civil War, 
when it skipped a beat and omitted the hubristic G.I. type. Each generation has 
its own unique story, of course, but when we strip away gradual secular trends 
(rising living standards, improving technology, expanding population, shifting 
geography), we see similar human dramas, repeating again and again. 

If generations come in cycles, moreover, so do constellations. Each constel- 
lational era , each of the four possible layerings of peer personalities, possesses 
its own recognizable mood. As generations layer themselves and age in place, 
one after the other — Lost, G.I., Silent, Boom, 13th, and so on — the mood of 
a constellation itself shifts over time. A constellation with outer-focused doers 
in midlife and inner-focused moralists in youth, for instance, will set a national 
mood quite different from one with inner- and outer-focused generations in the 
opposite positions. Some constellations produce a national mood of staleness, 
others of rejuvenation. Some fight wars well, others badly. Some defer crisis, 
others congeal it. 

Looking back over American history , we find a correspondence between 
recurring patterns in generational constellations and recurring types of historical 
events. Consider, first, the four great periods of crisis in American history: the 
colonial emergencies culminating in the Glorious Revolution of 1689; the Amer- 
ican Revolution; the Civil War; and the twin emergencies of the Great Depression 
and World War II. All but one began at almost exactly the same constellational 
moment, just as the first Boom-type midlifers were entering elderhood and the 
first G.I. -type youths were coming of age. (The Civil War occurred nearly on 
schedule, but roughly a half generation early.) Now reflect on America’s five 
great spiritual awakenings, from the Puritans’ “City on a Hill” in the 1630s to 
the Boomers’ “Consciousness Revolution” that began in the late 1960s. Without 
exception, all five began at the same constellational moment, just as the first 
G.I. -type midlifers were entering elderhood and the first Boom-type children 
were coming of age. 

This recurring cycle of generational types and moods helps us not only to 



34 


GENERATIONS 


understand the past, but also to forecast how the future of America may well 
unfold over the next century. The cycle delivers no specific timetable about wars, 
stock-market crashes, or scientific discoveries. It does offer an approximate 
calendar and itinerary of major changes that America can expect in the next 
decade and century — and important predictions about how today’s children will 
grow up, today’s adults will grow old, and today’s elders will be remembered. 

Our theory of generations is, in effect, two related theories, the merging of 
two separate traditions of scholarship. First, building on the “generations ap- 
proach’’ (a mostly European school of sociology pioneered by Karl Mannheim, 
Jose Ortega y Gasset, and others), we propose what we call an “age-location’’ 
perspective on history. Most historical narratives treat each separate age group, 
especially the midlife or leadership age group, as a continuous, living entity 
over time. The reader rarely learns how earlier events, experienced at younger 
ages, influence later behavior at older ages. Examining history by age location, 
however, we can see how events shape the personalities of different age groups 
differently according to their phase of life, and how people retain those person- 
ality differences as they grow older. Since we stress the link between age and 
events, the concept of a “cohort-group” (a group of all persons bom within a 
limited span of years) is central to our theory. We define a generation as a 
special cohort-group whose length approximately matches that of a basic phase 
of life, or about twenty-two years over the last three centuries. 

Intuitively, everyone recognizes the importance of age location. A genera- 
tion’s place in history affects everything from the nurture it receives from elders 
to the nurture it later gives its young. Today’s fiftyish and sixty ish Silent can 
recall the smothering style of their own upbringing in the 1930s and 1940s, in 
sharp contrast to the “hurried” children they raised in the 1960s and 1970s. 
Everyone also recognizes how the same event can have a very different meaning 
for generations in different phases of life. Consider the Great Depression and 
its Pearl Harbor sequel. For children (Silent), it meant tight protection; for rising 
adults (G.I.s), teamwork and challenge; for midlifers (Lost), a new sense of 
responsibility; for elders (Missionaries), an opportunity to champion long-held 
visions. But the pattern is not the same for every event. Compare the depression 
1930s, for example, with the counterculture 1970s. This latter time, we saw 
children (13ers) grow up quickly and on their own; rising adults (Boomers) 
fragment and turn inward; midlifers (Silent) speed up to a new sense of adventure; 
and elders (G.I.s) defend institutions under siege from the young. 

The lesson? There is no such thing as one universal lifecycle. To the contrary, 
neighboring generations can and do live very different lifecycles depending on 
their respective age locations in history. While observing (or trying to predict) 
phase-of-life behavior, we must remember that the age of each generation is 
rising while time moves forward. Thus, we can visualize age location along 
what we call the “generational diagonal.” Tracing this diagonal allows us to 



PEOPLE MOVING THROUGH TIME 


35 


connect the event, the age, and the behavior of the same generation over time. 

Yet this approach alone tells us little about how generations shape history. 
So we turn now to our second proposition, related to the first: Generations come 
in cycles. Just as history produces generations , so too do generations produce 
history. Central to this interaction are critical events that we call “social mo- 
ments” — which alternate between “secular crises” and “spiritual awakenings.” 
Because a social moment hits people in different phases of life, it helps shape 
and define generations. And because generations in different phases of life can 
together trigger a social moment, they help shape and define history — and hence, 
new generations. Throughout American history, social moments have arrived at 
dates separated by approximately two phases of life, or roughly forty to forty- 
five years. Most historians look upon this rhythm as, at most, a curious coin- 
cidence. We look upon it as key evidence that a generational cycle is at work, 
ensuring a rather tight correspondence between constellations and events. The 
correspondence is not exact — but the average deviation from what the cycle 
would predict is only three or four years. That, we think, is a small margin of 
error for a theory applied over four centuries. 

We label the four generational types Idealist, Reactive, Civic, and Adaptive. 
With one exception, they have always recurred in a fixed order. During a spiritual 
awakening, Idealists are moving into rising adulthood while Reactives are ap- 
pearing as children; during a secular crisis, Civics are moving into rising adult- 
hood while Adaptives are appearing as children. Later in life, these generations 
trigger another social moment and thus keep the cycle turning. Among today’s 
living generations, the centenarian Missionaries and rising-adult Boomers are 
Idealists; the very old Lost and coming-of-age 13ers are Reactives; the senior- 
citizen G.I.s and baby Millennial are Civics; and the midlife Silent are Adap- 
tives. The first and third types are what we call “dominant” in public life — 
Idealists through redefining the inner world of values and culture, and Civics 
through rebuilding the outer world of technology and institutions. The other two 
types are “recessive” in public life, checking the excesses of their more powerful 
neighbors — Reactives as pragmatists, Adaptives as ameliorators. 

The passage of four generations. Idealist through Adaptive, completes one 
full generational cycle over the course of four twenty-two-year phases of life (a 
total duration of roughly ninety years). From the 1584 Puritan birthyear forward, 
we can trace five such cycles through American history — of which three (Co- 
lonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War) are fully ancestral, a waning fourth (Great 
Power) comprises the eldest 28 percent of the American population at the be- 
ginning of 1991, and an emerging fifth (Millennial) includes the youngest 72 
percent. Within these cycles, we identify eighteen generations, from John Winth- 
rop’s Puritans to Jessica McClure’s Millennial — and a recurring pattern of 
awakenings and crises. While each era has produced its special variations, the 
basic pattern has persisted unchanged since the late sixteenth century, when the 



36 


GENERATIONS 


peers of Sir Philip Sydney, Francis Bacon, and William Shakespeare-men 
the age of the Puritans’ fathers — triumphed in war, glorified science, and 
praised the order of the universe. 

We leave our cycle prophecies for later. At this point, we focus on one 
demographic fact we can project for certain. Twenty-two years from now, the 
generational constellation of 1991 — the one we listed in Figure 1-1 — will have 
moved up a notch, as shown in Figure 1-2. (We assume the Millennial Generation 
will be of average length.) 

This projection reminds us not just of our own personal mortality, but also 
of the mortality of our generation. Like a person, a generation is allotted a limited 
time in each phase of life. Ultimately, most of what we associate with our 
generation — styles, habits, and artifacts — will disappear. We leave behind no 
more than what we persuade or oblige younger generations to take from us. 
Thus will all of us someday join the heritage of American civilization. 

America offers what may be mankind’s longest and best case study of gen- 
erational evolution. Since the eighteenth century, observers the world over have 
found this country unique for the freedom enjoyed by each successive generation 
to develop, and act upon, its own personality. When Alexis de Tocqueville 
visited America in the 1830s, he observed how generations mattered far more 
here than in Europe, how in America “each generation is a new people.” 
Tocqueville may have overstated the case. As we shall see, generational change 
in the Old World played a key role in triggering the Colonial cycle in the New 
World — back when most settlers still believed themselves, culturally and so- 
cially, part of Europe. Since then, generations in America have often shared a 
similar mind-set, a sort of sympathetic vibration, with their transatlantic peers. 
Like America, Western Europe also had its romantic radicals in the 1840s; its 


FIGURE 1-2 

Future Generational Constellation 


GENERATION 

BIRTHYEARS 

AGE IN 1991 

AGE IN 2013 

Missionary 

1860-1882 

108 + 

( not alive ) 

Lost 

1883-1900 

90-107 

112 + 

G.I. 

1901-1924 

66-89 

88-111 

Silent 

1925-1942 

48-65 

70-87 

Boom 

1943-1960 

30-47 

52-69 

Thirteenth 

1961-1981 

9-29 

31-51 

Millennial 

1982-2003 

0-8 

9-30 

Unnamed 

2004- ? 

( not alive) 

0-8 



PEOPLE MOVING THROUGH TIME 


37 


Blut und Eisen realists in the 1860s; its disillusioned generation dufeu of World 
War I soldiers; and its nouvelle resistance student movements in 1968. Toc- 
queville’s main point, however, remains sound. Far more than the Old World — 
with its tradition-shaped culture, hereditary elites, hierarchical religion, and 
habits of class deference — America has always been unusually susceptible to 
generational flux, to the fresh influence of each new set of youth come of age. 

In recent decades, as other societies have grown more open and mobile, this 
distinction between America and other societies may be disappearing. Were 
Tocqueville to travel through today’s world, he might find many countries with 
generations bom “new.” Shifts in peer personality have recently coursed through 
modem societies in all continents. From Eastern Europe to the Pacific Rim, from 
the Middle East to Latin America, new generational waves are breaking. In 
Poland, Lech Walesa was bom too late to remember the World War II atrocities 
committed there by German and Soviet armies. Today’s emerging “Thaw Gen- 
eration” of Soviet leaders can recall the 20th Soviet Congress in 1956, when 
Khrushchev first challenged the memory of Joseph Stalin. They often cite this 
event as a critical coming-of-age experience. To place them in our own cultural 
artifacts, we could point to the opening and closing scenes in the movie Doctor 
Zhivago , where the old revolutionary (Alec Guinness) asks a twentyish hydroe- 
lectric worker (Rita Tushingham) to remember the turmoil and sacrifice of 1917. 
He draws blank stares from the obliging young woman, who then would have 
been roughly the same age as Raisa and Mikhail Gorbachev. In Beijing, the 
ruling octogenarians of Deng Xiaoping’s “Long March” generation offer a 
powerful if chilling example of how history can shape a generation in ways that 
cause it, decades later, to force a new set of youths to come of age through a 
bloody gauntlet. In Bucharest, meanwhile, this shaping process backfired on 
Nicolae Ceausescu, who launched a nationalist campaign in 1967 to raise a large 
and patriotic generation of Romanians. These late- 1960s babies matured into the 
implacable student revolutionaries who, in 1989, sparked the very uprising that 
sealed Ceausescu’s demise. 

These may be isolated phenomena — or they may reflect generational cycles 
in these other societies. If the latter, our theory would not reflect anything 
uniquely American, just human nature working itself out in a world relatively 
unbound by tradition. 

So what’s going on in America, and where are we today? 

Reflect on the national life of the late 1830s, just after Tocqueville had written 
Democracy in America. The last of the great civic heroes of 1776 — the Patriots 
of Bunker Hill, the Constitution framers in Philadelphia, the Caesarlike creators 
of E Pluribus Unum — were passing away. Thomas Jefferson and Eli Whitney 
had both died a decade earlier, James Monroe and John Marshall within the last 
five years. James Madison was in his mid-eighties, Noah Webster and Aaron 
Burr in their late seventies. Their passing was already being lamented by the 



38 


GENERATIONS 


likes of the fiftyish Daniel Webster, who wondered how America could cope 
without these men of “massive solidity” whom the “iron harvest of the martial 
field” had united “happily and gloriously” in a “great and common cause.” 
Others in their fifties and sixties — Andrew Jackson’s Democrats and Henry 
Clay’s Whigs — complained about a gridlocked Congress and gestured nervously 
over mechanistic compromises and issues of character. On the great unresolved 
issues of the day — from slavery to western settlement — America drifted without 
direction. 

Meanwhile, a rising younger generation of evangelicals, utopian reformers, 
and transcendentalists (the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Gar- 
rison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Brigham Young, Frederick Douglass, and John 
Brown) were redefining American culture according to fresh, self-discovered 
values. Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, both reaching age 30, were show- 
ing signs of stem principle. Farther down the age ladder, hardscrabble children — 
Ulysses Grant, Stonewall Jackson, Andrew Carnegie, and Mark Twain — showed 
far less interest in philosophy than in action. Their peers were beginning to come 
of age amid criticism from older adults, who found them shallow and reckless. 
Does this all sound familiar? It should. In the late 1830s, generational types 
were lining up in just about the same constellation (from elderly Civics to teenage 
Reactives) that we see in present-day America. 

We find much the same pattern back in the late 1740s, as memories of the 
young patriots of the Glorious Revolution — by then dead or quite old — gave 
way to confusion about the future. Midlife leaders and parents lacked their elders’ 
sense of collective purpose. Gripped by a refined, highly analytical mind-set, 
they saw life as complicated, political choices as burdensome. Colonial society 
wobbled along, no one knowing exactly where. At that same moment, an in- 
trospective cadre of preachers and moralists ranging in age from their late twenties 
to mid-forties (including Jonathan Edwards, John Woolman, Benjamin Franklin, 
and Samuel Adams) were drawing spiritual zeal from their peers’ recent “Great 
Awakening.” And a pugnacious, liberty-loving troop of kids was just setting 
out to explore, fight, and strike it rich. Daniel Boone, Patrick Henry, Ethan 
Allen, and Benedict Arnold were on the edge of puberty. John Adams and 
George Washington, both teenagers, were burning with personal ambition. Sound 
familiar? Here again, it should. Here again, the constellation was turning to a 
position much like today’s. 

Americans alive in those two past eras, just like Americans today, felt them- 
selves living off the achievements of the past. They saw their present world as 
comfortable but lacking direction, perhaps crumbling in its foundations. They 
looked forward to their own future and the future of their children with a mixture 
of guilt and anxiety. In the late 1980s, an American could pick up a journal and 
read a serious-minded essay entitled “The End of History” and tune to a pop 
radio station chanting lyrics like “no new tales to tell,” the lyrics of boredom. 
When history loses urgency, people tend to live at the expense of the future 



PEOPLE MOVING THROUGH TIME 


39 


despite their better judgment. What we find, today, are splintered families, 
downwardly mobile 20-year-olds, razor-thin savings rates, threats to the global 
environment, an eroding sense of national mission, and pyramiding entitlements 
for older generations crowding out investments needed by their heirs. As was 
true around 1750 and 1840, Americans in the early 1990s have only the vaguest 
sense of what the future holds — for their society as a whole, and for each living 
generation. 

Here is where the cycle can help. The story of civilization seldom moves in 
a straight line, but is rich with curves, oscillations, and mood shifts. The ebb 
and flow of history often reflect the ebb and flow of generations, each with a 
different age location, peer personality, and lifecycle story. By viewing history 
along the generational diagonal, by searching the cycle for behavioral clues, we 
can apply the mirror of recurring human experience to gaze around the comer 
of current trends and say something instructive about the decades to come. 

The lifecycle experience of ancestral generations tells us, in particular, that 
the peer personality of each generational type expresses itself very differently 
from one phase of life to the next. For example, Idealist generations (like Samuel 
Adams’) typically come of age attacking elder-built institutions before retreating 
into self-absorbed remission, but later mature into uncompromising “Gray Cham- 
pion’’ moralists. Reactive generations (like George Washington’s) bubble over 
with alienated risk-taking in their twenties, but age into mellow pragmatists by 
their sixties. Civic generations (like Cotton Mather’s) are aggressive institution- 
founders when young, but stolid institution-defenders when old. Adaptive gen- 
erations (like Theodore Roosevelt’s) are elder-focused conformists early in life, 
but junior-focused pluralists later on. With fourteen generational lifecycles al- 
ready completed, we can draw on a rich source of analogues to help us understand 
how the peer personalities of today’s four youngest generations — Silent, Boom, 
13th, Millennial — are likely to express themselves as they age in place. And 
looking back over four full generational cycles, we can also project how the 
national mood will evolve over the next half century as the generational con- 
stellation clicks up one, two, and three notches. 

History does not guarantee good endings. The American saga is replete with 
good and bad acts committed by generations no less than by individuals. Our 
national liturgy reminds us how ancestral generations provided helpful endow- 
ments that made progress possible, from the clearing of land to the building of 
infrastructure, from the waging of wars against tyrants to the writing of great 
literature. Yet ancestral generations have also, at times, inflicted terrible harms 
on their heirs — from instituting slavery to exterminating Indian tribes, from 
exploiting child labor to accumulating massive public debts. A lesson of the 
cycle is that each generational type specializes in its own unique brand of positive 
and negative endowments. Each of today’s adult generations — G.I., Silent, 
Boom, and 13th — has its own special way of helping or hurting the future. Each, 
collectively, has choices to make that will determine what sort of world its heirs 



40 


GENERATIONS 


will someday inherit, and how those heirs will remember its legacy. We shall 
return, at our story’s end, to what history suggests those choices will be. 

We opened with an account of inaugural parades celebrating the heroism of 
aging G.I.s. Today’s babies are being nurtured under conditions that could 
someday make them, like the G.I.s, a dominant generation of can-doers, victors 
in great struggles, and builders of great things. Around the year 2050, when the 
first Millennial Generation President is inaugurated, his or her peers may indeed 
have as many heroic memories to celebrate as the peers of John Kennedy and 
George Bush had in 1961 and 1989. 

With four centuries of history as a guide, we can see how today’s small 
children lie not at the end, but near the beginning of a new generational cycle. 
And they will have many new tales to tell. 



Part I 

T he Cycle 



Chapter 2 


LIFE ALONG THE 
GENERATIONAL 
DIAGONAL 


'A„ 


: last, this is your story. You’ll recognize yourself, your friends, and your 
lives,” reads the book jacket of Passages. In her best-selling book about “the 
predictable crises of adulthood,” Gail Sheehy describes a human lifecycle with 
common mileposts. We “do what we should” through our twenties, marrying 
around age 21 , making babies, baking brownies. We often suffer our first divorce 
between the ages of 28 and 30 — and, upon reaching our mid-thirties, watch our 
last child head off to kindergarten. Around ages 38 to 42, we experience an all- 
out midlife crisis. After making fundamental life changes, often including a 
switch in spouse and career, we feel “a mellowing and a new warmth” through 
our forties — after which her book trails off. Sheehy published Passages in 1976, 
when she was 39 years old. Her Silent Generation peers then ranged in age from 
34 to 51. 


In the year Passages first hit the shelves, a 25-year-old publishing assistant 
bought Sheehy ’s book, looking for guideposts to her own life. “The problem 
was,” Cheryl Merser later recalled, “I couldn’t find my life anywhere in Pas- 
sages .” Eleven years went by. Upon reaching age 36, Merser published her 
autobiography, “ Grown-ups in which she described how she and her Boomer 
friends were embarking on a lifecycle which kept them curiously on hold through 
their mid-thirties. Almost none of her friends was doing what they “should.” 
Few had gotten married by the age Sheehy said they should already be divorced. 
No one she knew had experienced a midlife crisis. “Finally, after umpteen 



44 


GENERATIONS 


readings, Passages began to make sense to me,” Merser wrote in 1987. “I 
realized in amazement that what I was reading, down to the details of the deadline- 
decade divorce and the subsequent rebirth, was the story of my parents’ lives.” 

To understand her same-age male friends, Merser might have paged through 
The Seasons of a Man s Life , a 1978 lifecycle road map by Daniel Levinson. 
In it, he sorted the post-adolescent male lifespan into six segments, three of 
them “transitional” in the manner of Sheehy’s various passage points. Decade 
after decade, adult crises of self-definition dominated the lifecycle of the forty 
men Levinson studied — all roughly Sheehy’s age, bom from the mid- 1920s 
through the mid- 1930s. Yet the two major impulses Levinson found in young 
men, the twin search for a “Loved One” (a woman to marry) and for a “Stronger 
One” (an older mentor), would have been wholly foreign to men in Merser’s 
circle. Male or female, her peers were remaining socially and professionally 
noncommittal — entirely unlike Levinson’s early- marrying careerists. 

So where could Merser turn for a guide to her own Boomer peers? She could 
have studied Erik Erikson’s “Eight Ages of Man” in his 1950 book Childhood 
and Society. Working from what he described as his “clinical experience” 
(mostly observations of his own G.I. peers), Erikson emphasized how people 
reject maternal authority and forge permanent ties with the community soon after 
a major coming-of-age trial. By the time a person reaches Merser’s age, according 
to Erikson, the social, economic, and family direction of life is fixed in concrete. 
For thirtysomething Boomers — still experimenting with life — this model works 
no better than Sheehy’s. Moving back further, Merser could have read Malcolm 
Cowley’s 1934 Lost Generation autobiography, Exile’s Return, and seen a young- 
adult world of alienation, unromantic toughness, and pleasure-seeking binges. 
No Boomer connection there, either. But going back a fourth notch to Jane 
Addams’ peers, well captured in Ellen Lagemann’s A Generation of Women, 
Merser might well have recognized a lifecycle resembling her own: the late- or 
never-marrying women of the Missionary Generation, comfortable with them- 
selves and firm in their values, but uncertain where the world might someday 
lead (or leave) them. 

Something seems out of joint here. Why should Merser and her Boomer peers 
have to go back almost a century to find a lifecycle they recognize? 

To understand, we have to start with the building-block of generations: the 
“cohort.” Derived from the Latin word for an ordered rank of soldiers, “cohort” 
is used by modem social scientists to refer to any set of persons bom in the 
same year; “cohort-group” means any wider set of persons bom in a limited 
span of consecutive years. The answer to Cheryl Merser’s confusion is that 
Sheehy, Erikson, and Cowley (but not Jane Addams) each belong to a cohort- 
group whose phase-of-life experiences were very different from her own. 



LIFE ALONG THE GENERATIONAL DIAGONAL 


45 


The Cohort-Group Biography 

Plainly, Gail Sheehy did something important when she wrote Passages. Her 
book has remained enormously popular with readers and critics because it offers 
a rare and compelling example of a cohort-group biography — a persuasive ren- 
dering, in Sheehy’ s case, of the collective personality of American men and 
women now in their fifties. Sheehy tells human history, history from the inside 
out, life as her peers have known and lived it, in stages. The same could be 
said for all good cohort-group biographies. They make us understand ourselves 
as groups of like-aged friends with a distinctive collective story, as fraternities 
or sororities that have grown up and matured in ways that are, in some sense, 
special . 

This is not always how we are taught to look at people. Picture the classic 
image that greets children when they first open a history book: a series of portraits 
of America’s forty-one Presidents, constituting (upon first election) a twenty- 
eight-year age bracket ranging from their early forties to their late sixties. Adjust 
the hairstyles and clothing, and they would all look like midlife members of the 
same club, gazing at life with identical emotions. From this collage, we find no 
inkling that when Grover Cleveland became a 47 -year-old mutton-chopped Pres- 
ident, Harry Truman was a baby, Herbert Hoover an adolescent, Woodrow 
Wilson a book- writing young professor — and the retired Ulysses Grant was dying 
of cancer. Each had a fundamentally different relationship with the world around 
him. Most history books are filled with fifty ish leaders and parents depicted over 
time as an endless continuum — an entity with its own memory, its own habits, 
its own inertia, its own self-perpetuation. At historic moments, such as the 
signing of the Declaration of Independence, we get occasional glimpses of gen- 
erational layering. Even then, we seldom learn about the different lifecycle prisms 
through which the peers of the 33-year-old Jefferson, of the 44-year-old Wash- 
ington, or of the 70-year-old Franklin understood such moments. 

Likewise, read any of the histories about individual phases of life — about 
childhood, adolescence, courtship, or old age. You’ll see mostly the same thing: 
one age bracket reified, fixed across time as a story unto itself. A 10-year-old 
Boy Scout in the 1920s somehow grows out of a 10-year-old “newsie” from 
the 1890s, or a 70-year-old senior activist in the 1980s out of a 70-year-old 
doughboy widow from the 1960s. Since no one actually grows this way, we call 
this perspective the “age-bracket fallacy,” the mistake of endowing a life phase 
with an anthropomorphic identity over time. You could indeed create a genuine 
cohort-group biography from pieces of such histories. But it would be arduous 
work. To learn about the lifecycle Abraham Lincoln’s peers actually experienced, 
to give one example, you would have to read the 1800s-to-1810s chapter in a 
childhood book, the 1820s chapter in a coming-of-age book, the 1830s-to- 1840s 



46 


GENERATIONS 


chapter in a book about family life, the 1 850s-to- 1 860s chapter in a regular 
history book, and the 1870s chapter in a book about old age. You would have 
to puzzle your way through a maze of disconnected clues and fragments. 

Another way to look at life is through direct observation. To learn how people 
grow older, your first impulse might be to observe how people in different age 
groups think and behave. In one day, you could interview people at age 10, 30, 
50, and 70, and then patch together your findings into one lifecycle snapshot. 
The trouble is, people don’t travel from infancy to old age in just one day. 
Imagine what you would have found around the year 1970: hurried children, 
adolescent mystics, playboys in their mid-thirties, “square” 55-year-olds, and 
reclusive elders. Such life phases could never fit together into a single and 
integrated human experience. Then check your findings for 1990: adored babies, 
cynical college kids, self-immersed yuppies, ambivalent midlifers, and busy 
senior citizens. Again, try to imagine people actually traveling through such a 
lifecycle. You can’t. And for good reason: No one ever lived it. Sociologist 
Matilda White Riley calls this the “life-course fallacy,” the mistake of describing 
a lifecycle simply by tacking together all the different age brackets alive at the 
same time. 

Because Sheehy and Levinson approach human experience from the per- 
spective of people moving through time, they successfully dodge both the phase- 
of-life and the lifecycle fallacies — and therefore say something important. But 
they do not guard against a third fallacy, what Riley calls the “fallacy of cohort- 
centrism,” the assumption that the lifecycle experience of one’s own cohort- 
group offers a single paradigm for all others. Sheehy calls the crises in Passages 
“predictable,” its lifecycle (quoting Jorge Luis Borges) a “web” of “what will 
be, is, and was.” Similarly, based on interviews with men who all came of age 
in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Levinson declares his “seasons” to have 
existed “in all societies, throughout the human species ... for the past five or 
ten thousand years.” Yet a lifecycle alleged to have lasted since the days of 
ancient Babylon somehow became unrecognizable to Cheryl Merser’s peers just 
one decade later. 

You can search further back into American history for an invariant and uni- 
versal lifecycle. You won’t find it. To the contrary, every American life phase 
has encountered frequent and major shifts over the last four centuries. New 
Englanders bom when Boston was founded in 1630 emerged as teenagers with 
a collective personality their patriarchal elders found utterly alien. The youths 
of the 1680s preferred teamwork over spiritual conversion; their sons in the 
1730s preferred the reverse. The twentyish soldiers of the French and Indian 
War grew up distrusting authority, while the twentyish patriots of 1776 came 
of age infatuated with public order. In the mid- 1830s, young adults tried to fire 
the passions of the old; three decades later, young adults doused old men’s fires. 
Following America’s two world wars, midlifers extended very different wel- 



LIFE ALONG THE GENERATIONAL DIAGONAL 


47 


comes to homecoming young soldiers: after World War I, cracking down on 
their wildness and drinking; after World War II, showering them with tax- 
supported benefits. Take any phase of life, move forward or backward a quarter 
century, and you will invariably discover profound changes in what it meant to 
be that age in America. 

To be sure, the human lifecycle has many timeless denominators. The bio- 
logical phases of aging — growth, puberty, menopause, senescence — always af- 
fect roughly the same age brackets in a similar and highly visible manner. Basic 
social roles also follow a relatively fixed age schedule: infancy, childhood, 
coming of age, marriage, midlife leadership, and elderly withdrawal. But within 
this general and slowly changing matrix, human behavior can be anything but 
invariant from one era to the next. Indeed, to fall into the trap of cohort-centrism 
is to commit, implicitly, both the other two fallacies at once. If the lifecycle 
were in fact universal, then fifty-fiveish people truly would be a seamless pan- 
orama, and we could tape together same-day phase-of-life snapshots into a 
coherent montage. American life would then be essentially premodem, and 
parents could expect their children to behave little differently from how they 
themselves (or their grandparents) once behaved. 

Taken together, these three fallacies lead to a world that most Americans 
would hardly recognize: a society having little connection to our history and no 
connection at all with the complicated phase-of-life changes we notice over time 
in friends, family, and neighbors. 

A lifecycle must be lived to be genuine, and to understand the behavior of 
any phase of life we must look at the special story of the flesh-and-blood people 
traveling through it. This is the important insight of Passages and other cohort- 
group biographies. However, no law of nature decrees that all cohort-groups 
must live the same lifecycle. The most cursory glance at history confirms that 
they do not. Because they do not, we must look at each cohort- group’s unique 
age location in history to uncover the inner logic of its own story. This is the 
important insight of the generational diagonal. 


The Generational Diagonal 

When reflecting on our own lives, especially on our college years, many of 
us can recall unusual cohort-groups coming of age as young adults — perhaps a 
few years younger, perhaps a few years older than ourselves. In the memory of 
the living, this has happened four times. In the early 1920s, an upbeat, collectivist 
batch replaced the cynics and individualists. In the late 1940s, a risk-averse 
batch replaced the can-do war heroes. In the mid-1960s, a fiery batch replaced 
the adult emulators. And around 1980, a smooth batch replaced the complainers. 
Whichever side of the line they were on, college alumni commonly remember 



48 


GENERATIONS 


these breakpoints. Others can recall less dramatic shifts: the rising drug use 
among successive college freshmen cohorts in the late 1960s and early 1970s, 
for example, or the growing popularity of military and entrepreneurial careers 
among those who came to campus in the early 1980s. As each of us grows older, 
we look at people of other ages and wonder whether we are changing or they 
are changing. The answer, quite often, is neither: We were both different to 
begin with. We were bom at different times. We belong to different cohort- 
groups. 

What exactly does it mean to belong to a cohort-group? Unlike many group 
definitions (like neighborhood or career), cohort-group membership is involun- 
tary. Then again, so is age. But unlike age, cohort-group membership is per- 
manent. And unlike sex or race (also involuntary and permanent), it applies to 
a finite number of identifiable individuals. After its last birthyear, a cohort-group 
can only shrink in size. Fixed in history, it must eventually disappear. What 
makes the cohort-group truly unique is that all its members — from birth on — 
always encounter the same national events, moods, and trends at similar ages. 
They retain, in other words, a common age location in history throughout their 
lives. Since history affects people very differently according to their age, common 
age location is what gives each cohort-group a distinct biography and a distinct 
lifecycle. 

We have no trouble appreciating age location when thinking of momentous 
historical events like war, depression, revolution, and spiritual prophecy. How 
these events affect people depends on their age at the time. The same cataclysm 
that a 10-year-old finds terrifying a 30-year-old may find empowering, a 50- 
year-old calming, a 70-year-old inspiring. Once received, such impressions con- 
tinue to shape the personality people take with them as they grow older. Today’s 
seventy-fiveish G.I.s, for instance, came of age with the New Deal, World War 
II, and collective heroism. They retain their taste for teamwork — and often 
wonder why self-obsessed yuppies never had it. Thirty-fiveish Boomers, on the 
other hand, came of age with Vietnam, Watergate hearings, and “Conscious- 
ness III” euphoria. They retain their taste for introspection, and often wonder 
why bustling senior citizens never had it. The 75-year-old had no Woodstock, 
the 35-year-old no D-Day — nothing even close. This coming-of-age contrast 
will continue to influence both groups’ attitudes toward the world — and toward 
each other — for as long as they live. Likewise, a very different contrast will 
always separate those who were children at the time of D-Day and Woodstock. 
If D-Day empowered young-adult G.I.s, it intimidated Silent children. And if 
Woodstock brought inner rapture to 25-year-old Boomers, it made 5-year-old 
13ers feel that the adult world was turning hysterical. 

Age location also shapes cohort-groups through historical shifts in society- 
wide attitudes toward families, schooling, sex roles, religion, crime, careers, 
and personal risk. At various moments in history, Americans have chosen to be 



LIFE ALONG THE GENERATIONAL DIAGONAL 


49 


more protective of children, or more generous to old people, or more tolerant 
of unconventional young adults. Then, after a while, the mood has swung the 
other way. Each time this happened, the social environment changed differently 
for each cohort-group. Take “open classrooms’ ’ in the early 1970s; or A-bomb 
drills for elementary students in the mid-1950s; or the huge rise in Social Security 
benefits in the mid-1970s. All were passing fads, but fads that forever changed 
the lives of the specific cohort-groups affected by them. The first permanently 
if subtly altered how today’s twenty-fiveish adults feel about parental authority; 
the second, how today’s fortyish adults feel about nuclear deterrence; the third, 
how today’s seventy-fiveish adults feel about their social status relative to people 
of other ages. Trees planted in the same year contain rings that indicate when 
they all met with a cold winter, wet spring, or dry summer. Cohort-groups are 
like trees in this respect. They carry within them a unique signature of history’s 
bygone moments. 

Almost by design, America’s present-day social institutions accentuate the 
power of age location. The more tightly age-bracketed the social experience, 
the more pronounced the ultimate cohort identity. From kindergarten through 
high school, almost all pupils in any one classroom belong to the same birthyear. 
In nonschool activities like Little League and scouting, children participate within 
two- or three-year cohort-groups. College-age students date, study, and compete 
athletically within cohort-groups seldom exceeding five years in length. As mod- 
em adults age into midlife, their friendships typically widen into longer birthyear 
zones. But their cohort bonds remain strong. Most retain contact with “Big 
Chill” circles of like-aged friends, with (or against) whom they measure progress 
at each phase of life. High school and college reunions remind alumni of their 
cohort bonds — how each class remains, in important respects, different from 
those a few years younger or older. Over the last few decades, cohorts have 
even been retiring together in their early to mid-sixties. Like all status desig- 
nations (including sex, race, and profession), cohort-group membership forges 
a sense of collective identity and reinforces a common personality. 

Quantitative research on cohorts is still a young science. The very term “birth 
cohort” was not coined until 1863 (by the French sociologist Emile Littre), and 
the concept attracted little attention over the next hundred years. Since the early 
1960s, the interest has grown more serious — especially in America. Intrigued 
by lifecycle shifts, a few historians have begun to pore over town archives, 
gravestones, and census records to study cohort-groups in small communities. 
Social scientists have also begun to look more carefully at modem behavioral 
data from a birthyear perspective. All this could not happen at once. The number- 
crunchers first had to wait until they could obtain age-bracketed data for the 
American population at large. Then they had to wait still longer until time could 
sort out the independent effect of cohort membership from other behavior-shaping 
variables such as phase of life (the “age effect”) and historical change (the 



50 


GENERATIONS 


“period effect”). But as the widespread collection of age-bracketed data enters 
its third decade, the results are finally arriving. More often than not, they show 
that cohorts matter a great deal. 

Survey analysis of voting behavior is a classic case in point. In the early 
1960s, researchers discovered that Americans age 65 to 80 voted heavily Re- 
publican, while younger Americans voted Democratic. At that time, three ex- 
planations seemed equally plausible: People always tend to vote Republican 
when they get old (the age effect); elders were the leading wave of a national 
trend toward Republicanism (the period effect); or the 1890s cohort-group leans 
Republican (the cohort effect). Most experts opted for the first answer — the age 
effect. “Aging seems to produce a shift toward Republicanism,” concluded one 
study in 1962. “The pattern appears to be linear.” Wrong. Two decades passed, 
enabling survey researchers to isolate and measure the influence of each effect. 
Cohorts won, hands down. The post- 1970 arrival of a new and increasingly 
Democratic batch of 65-to-80-year-olds made cohorts the only possible expla- 
nation. So, a decade later, did the arrival of a new and increasingly Republican 
batch of young voters. 

Further confirmation of the power of cohorts comes from longitudinal tests 
of intelligence and educational aptitude. For the last third of a century, psy- 
chologist K. Warner Schaie has measured the “psychometric intelligence” of a 
long series of seven-year cohort-groups — bom from 1886 through 1962 — living 
in Seattle, Washington. Schaie’s original purpose was to trace universal lifecycle 
trends (the age effect) in aptitude scores. In this, he has been successful. His 
surveys show that measured intelligence rises most steeply in the twenties, begins 
to level off during the thirties, and enters a gradual decline around the middle 
fifties. What Schaie was not looking for — but found — was a powerful correlation 
between his aptitude scores and his specific cohort-groups. In each case, the 
cohort effect remained strong even after Schaie isolated it both from the influence 
of age and from the influence of historical changes such as better schooling. 
Among subjects under age 70, in fact, most measures of aptitude vary far more 
across cohort lines than across age brackets. For example: 

• The 1886-1892 cohort-group scored the highest of all groups in “word 

fluency” (vocabulary), but the lowest in everything else. 

• The 1907-1927 cohort-groups have done very well in overall “intellectual 

ability” and have clearly outperformed all other groups in “numbers skills.” 
The last of these three groups (1921-1927) appears, on balance, to be the 
highest-scoring group thus far tested. 

• The 1935-1941 cohort-group has scored highest of all groups in “space” 

(geometry) reasoning, second in “reasoning” (logic), but last in “word 
fluency.” 



LIFE ALONG THE GENERATIONAL DIAGONAL 


51 


• The 1942-1948 cohort-group has beaten all the others in “verbal meaning,” 

but has done little better than average in “numbers skills” and “space” 
reasoning. 

• More recent cohort-groups (bom 1949-1962) have shown progressively de- 

clining scores across the board. 

Such marked contrasts between cohort-groups prompt us to ask searching 
questions about the age location and collective biography of each group. As yet, 
however, research on cohort effects remains in its infancy, and seldom are such 
questions ever addressed. Even when birthyear information is available, most 
experts do not bother to isolate it from data presented under other labels. A 
typical table shows age on the vertical axis, calendar year on the horizontal. 
Thus, by implication (though not by label), the cohort lies along the generational 
diagonal. Unless you are looking diagonally for the cohort effect, you will not 
see it. And unless you are willing to wait many years, you cannot rule out that 
what you see is simply due to aging or to historical trends affecting all age 
brackets. 

To see how this diagonal can work where other approaches fail, consider the 
1970s-era debate over declining Standard Aptitude Test (SAT) scores among 
U.S. high school seniors. For seventeen straight years, from 1964 through 1980, 
the average SAT score declined. In 1976, the federal Wirtz Commission attrib- 
uted roughly half the fall to the growing share of all high school seniors who 
chose to take the test and the rest to such vague period effects as permissiveness 
and less homework. But in 1988, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) looked 
again at the SAT numbers and compared them with the standardized test scores 
of younger students. CBO researchers discovered a very close diagonal match — 
at all grades — between scores and birth cohorts. In other words, the SAT trend 
could have been predicted , in each year , by looking at the lower-grade test 
scores in earlier years for each cohort. Even as the Wirtz Commission agonized 
in 1976 over the SAT decline, 12-year-olds were already scoring higher than 
their next-elders — which (had anyone been looking) could have foretold an SAT 
reversal five years in the future. Test scores in the third grade showed improve- 
ment by the early 1970s; in the sixth grade by the mid-1970s; and in junior high 
school by the late 1970s. Once these same kids (the 1964 and 1965 cohorts) 
reached twelfth grade in the early 1980s, SAT scores did indeed begin rising 
again. 

Are these aptitude scores linked to any other important cohort shifts? Let’s 
hunt down the “generational diagonal” among a handful of age-bracketed in- 
dicators for violent crime, substance abuse, and drunk driving. These indicators, 
of course, always show a marked lifecycle pattern — rising sharply through ad- 
olescence, peaking in the early twenties, and falling at higher ages. If we tabulate 



52 


GENERATIONS 


these rates by age, however, we can control for the age effect and focus on how 
the rate changes, year by year, at any given age. In Figure 2-1, we summarize 
data on average grade-school test scores (from ages 8 to 17); per capita con- 
sumption of alcohol (17- and 18-year-old students only) and marijuana (17-year- 
old students only); per capita arrest rates for arson, robbery, and assault (from 
ages 15 to 24); and per capita arrest rates for drunk driving (from ages 18 to 
24). In a format we use throughout this book, we show age on the vertical axis, 
calendar year on the horizontal. For each age, we mark the calendar year at 
which the indicator reached its negative extreme (the lowest test score or the 
highest rate of crime or substance abuse) since such statistics have been compiled. 

No one will have any trouble identifying the diagonal. 

The portrait that emerges of the 1961-1964 cohort-group is vivid and un- 
flattering. Over the postwar period, at each age through 24, this group has 
generated all of America's lowest aptitude-test scores; the highest high school 
senior drug and alcohol abuse; all but one of America’s highest drunk-driving 
rates; and most of America’s highest rates for three violent crimes. Very likely 
(though detailed age-bracketed data remain unavailable), it has also generated 
record rates for many other social pathologies, including suicide. Since most of 
the high-crime years cluster around the late 1970s and early 1980$, we might 
at first glance suspect that part of the story is a historical trend affecting all age 
groups. Yet the behavior of older age brackets rules this out. From the mid- 
1970s to the mid-1980s, while the rates for drunk driving, suicide, and most 
violent crimes were accelerating swiftly for 15-to-24-year-olds, they were sta- 
bilizing or falling for all age brackets over age 35. 

By 1991, the men and women bom from 1961 through 1964 have reached 
their late twenties. They are no longer taking aptitude tests and have left their 
high-crime and high-drinking ages behind them. We would be naive, however, 
to assume that the collective personality of these individuals will simply disappear 
as they grow older. Plainly, America is dealing with a troubled cohort-group. 
To know why, we must again ponder age location. Individuals bom in 1962, 
for example, were year-old infants when Jack Kennedy was assassinated; age 5 
during the “long hot summer” of urban rioting; age 7 at the time of anti- Vietnam 
marches, the moon landing, Chappaquiddick, and a sudden leap in divorce rates; 
age 13 when the Watergate trials ended and the poverty rate for youths rose 
steeply (just when it was plummeting for the elderly); and age 17 when Americans 
parked in gas lines and saw angry Iranian mobs cursing America every evening 
on TV. We might reflect on what these youngsters saw in their elder brothers 
and sisters, heard from their teachers, or sensed from their parents. 



LIFE ALONG THE GENERATIONAL DIAGONAL 


53 


FIGURE 2-1 

Aptitude Tests, Substance Abuse, Violent Crimes, 
and Drunk Driving: The Cohort Diagonal 

YEAR 

1970 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 


AGE 

24 - 

23 - 


B/R/S 




B/R/S Id]/ *' 



FOR A GIVEN AGE: A = highest per capita alcohol consumption 

B = highest per capita robbery conviction rate 
D = highest per capita drunk-driving arrest rate 
M = highest per capita marijuana consumption 
R = highest per capita arson conviction rate 
S = highest per capita assault conviction rate 
T = lowest average aptitude test score 





54 


GENERATIONS 


From Cohorts to Generations 

Reading along the generational diagonal shows us that history does not always 
move in a straight line. It also prompts us to ask why. What differences in 
parental nurture, schooling, adult expectations, economic trends, or cultural tone 
might explain why the early- 1960s cohorts scored so low on aptitude tests? Or 
why the early- 1920s cohorts (if Seattleites are any guide) grew up scoring so 
high? The closer we look, the more interesting such questions become. Why, 
for example, did the schoolchildren of the 1930s develop such strong number 
skills, and then raise their own children (the “Jack and Jill” readers of the 1950s) 
to have such a commanding grasp of verbal meaning? What was it about the 
nurture of the 1886-1899 cohort-groups that produced such precocious talent at 
word play — culminating in memorable slang, brilliant mystery fiction, the in- 
vention of crossword puzzles, five of America’s nine Nobel Prizes for literature, 
and the greatest elder elocutionists (from Adlai Stevenson to Sam Ervin) of the 
twentieth century? 

Countless such questions lie unanswered among the myriad cohort-groups of 
the past four centuries. How and at what age did history shape them? And how 
and at what age did they in turn shape history? A few other examples: 

• During the fifteen years from 1633 to 1647 were bom the most berated and 

abused children in colonial history, the most notorious seventeenth-century 
American pirates and rebels, and about half of all women ever tried and 
executed for witchcraft in New England. 

• During the three years from 1721 to 1723 were bom all Americans age 18 at 

the height of the colonial “Great Awakening,” the most energetic evan- 
gelicals and antislavery activists of the entire eighteenth century — and half 
of all delegates over age 50 who attended the First Continental Congress 
in 1774. 

• During the nine years from 1767 to 1775 were bom all Americans who watched 

the Revolutionary War only as children; all 44 of the methodical and well- 
behaved members of the Lewis and Clark expedition; and all three members 
of the antebellum “Great Triumvirate” (Clay, Webster, and Calhoun), 
known in midlife for hair-splitting oratory, procedural compromises over 
the issue of slavery, and twelve failed attempts to run for the Presidency. 

• During the thirteen years from 1809 to 1821 were bom the vast majority of 

the best-known reformers, abolitionists, feminists, self-proclaimed proph- 
ets, and commune founders of the nineteenth century — and nearly two- 
thirds of the Congress in session (plus the President and Vice President) at 
the outbreak of the Civil War. 



LIFE ALONG THE GENERATIONAL DIAGONAL 


55 


• During the eight years from 1822 to 1829 were bom most of the Gold Rush 

’49ers, the most colorful and effective Civil War generals, the leading 
postwar “scalawag” southern governors, the most notorious machine bosses 
of the Gilded Age, and every American age 64 to 71 during the Crash of 
’93 — the first recession that forced a categorical retirement of elder workers 
to what was then known as the “industrial scrap heap.” 

• During the eleven years from 1869 to 1880 were bom nearly all the fiery young 

journalists whom Theodore Roosevelt called “muckrakers,” nearly half the 
Congress that approved Prohibition in 1919, and the leading public figures 
(Herbert Hoover, Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall, Bernard Baruch, 
and Herbert Lehman) who established, by midcentury, America’s global 
reputation as a crusading defender of civilized morality. 

• During the eleven years from 191 1 to 1921 were bom nearly all the Depression- 

era high school graduates whose first job was in a New Deal relief program, 
all but one of President Kennedy’s leading “best and brightest” advisers, 
two-thirds of all Americans ever awarded the Nobel Prize for economics — 
and the most aggressive (and effective) elderly lobbyists for public retire- 
ment benefits in American history. 

• During the eight years from 1925 to 1932 were bom most of the “Li’l Rascals,” 

the kids of the Great Depression, the core “beatniks” of the 1950s, and 
the vast majority of the most popular social and political satirists during 
the entire postwar era, from the 1950s to the present day. 

• During the two years of 1941 and 1942 were bom the children of the Brown 

v. Board of Education school desegregation case in 1954, the majority of 
the Greensboro lunch-counter sit-in protesters in 1961, the best-known 
“black power” advocates of the late 1960s and 1970s, and Jesse Jackson. 

• During the single year of 1943 were bom World War II’s home-leave 4 ‘goodbye 

babies” — and a vastly disproportionate number of the most inner-driven 
and judgmental figures of the last several decades, including: Bob Wood- 
ward, Gracie Slick, Jim Morrison, Bobby Fischer, Robert Crumb, Randy 
Newman, Mitch Snyder, Oliver North, Newt Gingrich, William Bennett, 
Richard Darman, and Geraldo Rivera. 

• During the four years of 1967 to 1970 were bom all the children conceived 

during the flower-child summers of “love” and antiwar protest, nearly 
everyone who first heard about the space shuttle Challenger disaster while 
sitting in a high school classroom, and two-thirds of all U.S. soldiers killed 
during the American invasion of Panama in December of 1989. 

So far we have only focused on narrow birthyear spans. What we need is a 
way to simplify age location for all cohorts, to aggregate all Americans into a 
larger pattern of distinct biographies. 



56 


GENERATIONS 


FIGURE 2-2 

The History of the American Lifecycle 
in the Twentieth Century 



1920 

1942 

1964 

1986 

ELDER 

Age 66-87 

sensitive 

visionary 

reclusive 

busy 

MIDLIFE 

Age 44-65 

moralistic 

pragmatic 

powerful 

indecisive 

RISING 

Age 22-43 

alienated 

heroic 

conformist 

narcissistic 

YOUTH 

Age 0-21 

protected 

suffocated 

indulged 

criticized 


To begin, let’s build a simple lifecycle framework out of four life phases of 
equal twenty-two-year lengths. Accordingly, we define “youth” as lasting from 
ages 0 to 21, “rising adulthood” from ages 22 to 43; “midlife” from ages 44 
to 65; and “elderhood” from ages 66 to 87. Now picture a chart with this 
lifecycle on the vertical axis and calendar years on the horizontal axis. We mark 
the calendar years at twenty-two-year intervals, so that Americans located in 
any one life phase (such as “youth”) in one marked year will be in the next 
life phase (“rising adulthood”) in the next marked year. At each intersecting 
point, we place an adjective that reflects how contemporaries regarded the per- 
sonality of Americans in that phase of life and in that year. We describe midlife 
adults in 1920 as “moralistic,” for example, since that is how their juniors and 
elders perceived them; they were in fact the major proponents of Prohibition. 
Filling in all these adjectives, we get the mosaic shown in Figure 2-2. 

Reading history horizontally along any single row is to commit the age-bracket 
fallacy. No entry seems to have any intrinsic connection to whatever comes 
before or after it. If we read along the midlife row, for example, we see life as 
political historians usually portray it — as a seamless ribbon of eternal 55-year- 
olds. Reading vertically up any single column is to commit the life-course fallacy. 
Pick any column, and try to imagine how someone could grow older that way. 
You can’t. Yet if we ignore rows and columns and just look at all the adjectives 
one by one, the history of the modem American lifecycle becomes hopelessly 
complicated. Everything seems to be changing all the time. 



LIFE ALONG THE GENERATIONAL DIAGONAL 


57 


FIGURE 2-3 

The Generational Diagonal in the Twentieth Century 

1920 1942 1964 1986 


ELDER 

Age 66-87 


MIDLIFE 

Age 44-65 


RISING 

Age 22-43 

YOUTH 

Age 0-21 


sensitive visionary reclusive busy 




protected suffocated indulged criticized 


There’s a third approach: to read history along the generational diagonal , 
just as we did with SAT scores. Consider Figure 2-3. 

Let’s start at the bottom of the 1942 column and move diagonally up and to 
the right, following the same cohort-group: from “suffocated” youths to “con- 
formist” rising adults to “indecisive” midlifers. This is the story told by Gail 
Sheehy in Passages. Switching to the next diagonal to the right, we see Cheryl 
Merser’s path. Switching in the other direction, we see the “protected” then 
“heroic” then “powerful” then “busy” diagonal of the peers of Erik Erikson 
(and John Kennedy). Tracing along these diagonals in sequence, we can avoid 
the fallacy of cohort-centrism and monitor how each set of peers has traveled a 
separate path through life, from youth to elderhood. With a little imagination, 
we can appreciate how each era looked and felt to the people who lived these 
different lifecycles. 

Each of the diagonals depicted in Figure 2-3, of course, represents more than 
just a randomly selected cohort group. Each diagonal represents a generation 
possessing its own distinct age location and peer personality. Although smaller 
cohort-groups often reveal telling links over time between experience and be- 
havior, only generational cohort-groups encompass all individual cohorts and 
organize them by peer personality into basic building blocks of social change. 
By inquiring into generations — what creates them, how long they are, how their 
boundaries can be identified, and how they align in constellations — we can begin 
to understand their powerful relationship with history over the centuries. 



Chapter 3 


BELONGING TO 
A "GENERATION" 


"Y 

A ou belong to it, too. You came along at the same time. You can’t get 
away from it. You’re a part of it whether you want to be or not.” What is this 
“it” in Thomas Wolfe’s dialogue in You Can't Go Home Again ? His own “Lost 
Generation.” To Wolfe, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Cowley, and other like-aged 
writers of the 1920s, membership in this generation reflected a variety of emotions 
and mannerisms: weary cynicism at a young age, risk-taking, bingelike behavior, 
disdain for a pompous “older generation.” Wolfe’s peers stood across a wide 
divide from moralistic midlifers and across another divide from straight-arrow 
teenagers who had never known the lethal futility of trench warfare. To belong, 
yQU had to be combat-eligible during World War I and a rising adult when 
Prohibition started. No one formally defined it that way. You just knew. 

A half century later, demographers tried to define a later generation — Boom- 
ers — as all cohorts bom during the high-fertility years of 1946 through 1964, 
But this statistical definition fails Wolfe’s “you belong to it” test. Does a 1944 
baby “belong to it”? Absolutely. What about a 1964 baby? Not a chance. Just 
ask a few of today’s 46-year-olds or 26-year-olds. Clearly, Wolfe understood 
something that demographers didn’t. 

To be sure, people are bom all the time — an argument often used to dismiss 
the “generation” as a meaningful concept. How can we draw any distinctions 
between babies bom a day, a year, even a decade apart? Likewise, feet, yards, 
and miles are everywhere. But sometimes a foot crosses a national boundary or 



BELONGING TO A ‘GENERATION” 


59 


a continental divide. The Spanish sociologist Julian Marias, writing in 1967, 
used this analogy to liken generational mapping to “social cartography.” Ex- 
amining consecutive cohorts is like tracing land across wide river basins occa- 
sionally “creased” by ridges. “In this analogy,” Marias suggested, “each 
generation would be the area between two mountain chains, and in order to 
determine whether a certain point belonged to one or the other, it would be 
necessary to know the relief. Two widely separated points could belong to the 
same generation, or two close points, on the other hand, might belong to different 
generations. It would depend on whether the points were on the same slope or 
on different sides of a slope.” Sometimes Marias’ “creases” would be a jagged 
peak, other times a low rise. Water flows down a low rise less swiftly than down 
a jagged peak, but it flows down just as surely in opposite directions. 

Like most other social categories — religion, political party, income, occu- 
pation, race — generations can be imprecise at the boundaries. We define gen- 
erational boundaries (Marias’ “creases”) by calendar year — and, of course, 
some people bom just on one side may really belong on the other. But a little 
ambiguity does not keep us from distinguishing Catholics from Protestants, 
Democrats from Republicans, or the middle class from the poor. Nor should it 
keep us from distinguishing Silent from Boom. “Specifying generations,” notes 
historian Alan Spitzer, “is no more arbitrary than specifying social classes, or 
ideologies, or political movements where there is inevitably a shading off or 
ambiguity at the boundaries of categories.” 

Then again, even small amounts of time can be decisive in binding — and 
separating — generations. In today’s era of age gradations, a one-minute delay 
in birth (most often at the stroke of the New Year) can mean the difference 
between kindergarten and first grade six years later. That decision, in turn, can 
mean the difference between wartime draft and schoolroom comfort twelve or 
thirteen years farther down the road. (A Ph.D. candidate bom on December 31, 
1942, had an excellent chance of gliding through graduate school on student 
deferments; one bom the next day found it much harder to avoid Vietnam.) In 
this respect, a generational boundary is like the federal definition of poverty. A 
family whose income is $1 below the income limit for child support will think, 
behave, be perceived, and be treated differently from another family whose 
income is $1 above the limit. As years pass, the $1 -under and $l-over families 
will probably grow less alike, thanks to what was at first an arbitrary distinction. 
Likewise with generations. 

For centuries, the power of the generation has not escaped the eye of phi- 
losophers and poets, historians and sociologists. Writing in the early twentieth 
century, Jose Ortega y Gasset called the generation “the most important con- 
ception in history.” Many others have shared that view. Since the days of the 
Old Testament and ancient Greece, the word “generation” and its various roots 
have connoted the essence of life — birth and death, the maturing of youth and 
the letting-go of old age, the rise and fall of dynasties and nations. In Appendix 



60 


GENERATIONS 


A, we summarize briefly what has been written over the millennia about what 
Karl Mannheim once called the “generations problem.” We explain how the 
dynamics of generational definition and cyclical change can be inferred from 
sources ranging from the Iliad and the Book of Exodus to the writings of several 
nineteenth-century Europeans. We attempt to go beyond our predecessors by not 
just talking about “generations” in the abstract, but by defining the term precisely 
enough to batch real-life cohort-groups into generations — and fix them in history. 
Once we do this, we can understand the relationships among them — and, es- 
pecially, how and why they occur in cycles. 

We begin with the following definition: 

• A GENERATION is a cohort-group whose length approximates the span of a 
phase of life and whose boundaries are fixed by peer personality . 

This definition includes two important elements: first, the length of a gen- 
erational cohort-group, and second, its peer personality. 


The Length of a Generation 

Let’s begin with the question of length. Although social philosophers over 
the last two centuries have often (like ourselves) defined a generation as a cohort- 
group, they have had difficulty explaining how long it should be. Many have 
wrongly suggested that the length be based on the average age of parenthood — 
that is, the average span of years that pass between being bom and giving birth. 
This rhythm of genealogy makes sense when applied to an individual family 
over a few decades, but not to an entire society, nor even to many families over 
a longer period. The reason is simple: Parents give birth to children at widely 
differing ages (typically from their mid-teens to early forties), and children 
intermarry with other families with equally wide birth distributions. Each chain 
of parent-to-child lineage produces a single thread of family time , but combining 
millions of such threads produces no single rope of social time. 

We choose instead to base the length of a generational cohort-group on the 
length of a phase of life. We define life phases in terms of central social roles. 
Returning to the twenty-two-year phases we used in Chapter 2, let’s outline what 
these roles might include: 

• ELDERHOOD (age 66-87). Central role: stewardship (supervising, mentor- 

ing, channeling endowments, passing on values). 

• MIDLIFE (age 44-65). Central role: leadership (parenting, teaching, directing 

institutions, using values). 

• RISING ADULTHOOD (age 22-43). Central role: activity (working, starting 

families and livelihoods, serving institutions, testing values). 



BELONGING TO A “GENERATION” 


61 


• YOUTH (age 0-21). Central role: dependence (growing, learning, accepting 
protection and nurture, avoiding harm, acquiring values). 

These central role descriptions are only suggestive. All we require is that 
each role be different and that the age borders for each role be well defined. 
Practically every society recognizes a discrete coming-of-age moment (or “rite 
of passage”) separating the dependence of youth from the independence of 
adulthood. This moment is critical in creating generations; any sharp contrast 
between the experiences of youths and rising adults may fix important differences 
in peer personality that last a lifetime. Most societies also recognize a midlife 
transition when an adult is deemed qualified for society’s highest leadership 
posts, and an age of declining physiological potential when adults are expected 
or forced to retire from strenuous social and economic life. In America over the 
last two centuries, our twenty-two-year intervals reflect these divisions. Ages 
21-22 have approximated the age of legal majority, the end of apprenticeship, 
the first year after college, the release of noncollege men from the armed forces, 
and (from around 1820 until 1971) first suffrage; ages 43-44, the youngest age 
of any successful Presidential candidate; and ages 65-66, a typical age (and, 
since the 1940s, often an official age) for retirement. 

Now suppose a decisive event — say, a major war or revolution — suddenly 
hits this society. Clearly, the event will affect each age group differently ac- 
cording to its central role. In the case of a major war, we can easily imagine 
youths encouraged and willing to keep out of the way (dependence), rising adults 
to arm and meet the enemy (activity), midlifers to organize the troops and manage 
the home front (leadership), and elders to offer wisdom and perspective (stew- 
ardship). We can also imagine how most people will emerge from the trauma 
with their personalities permanently reshaped in conformance with the role they 
played (or were expected to play but didn’t). The decisive event, therefore, 
creates four distinct cohort-groups — each about twenty-two years in length and 
each possessing a special collective personality that will later distinguish it from 
its age-bracket neighbors as it ages in place. If future decisive events arrive when 
all of these cohort-groups are well positioned in older life phases, then those 
events will reinforce the separate identities of older cohort-groups and create 
new and distinct twenty-two-year cohort-groups among the children bom since 
the last event. 

The result over time is a series of distinct cohort-groups that includes everyone 
ever bom. Each of these we call a “generation,” and each of these possesses 
what we call a “peer personality.” 

We cannot, of course, expect that the length of every generation must always 
be twenty-two years — or any other precise number. The world is far too com- 
plicated to follow our simple model like clockwork. The effective length of each 
phase of life is always shifting a bit from one era to the next. Throughout 
American history, we can find some eras when youths became scrappy adven- 



62 


GENERATIONS 


turers or valiant soldiers in their late teens, and others in which they waited well 
into their twenties before leaving home. During the 1960s and 1970s, for ex- 
ample, the coming-of-age division between youth and rising adulthood drifted 
upward in age and the division between midlife leadership and elder stewardship 
drifted downward. During the 1930s and 1940s, with very different peer per- 
sonalities occupying each phase of life, these two divisions drifted in the reverse 
directions. Large and sudden changes, however, are quite rare. When have most 
Americans come of age? Not always at age 22, but not often many years sooner 
or later. 

Even though generational membership does not depend at all on family lineage 
(brothers and sisters or husbands and wives may fall anywhere with respect to 
cohort-group boundaries), the special bonds — emotional, biological, social, eco- 
nomic — connecting parents to their own children clearly matter. In fact, family 
relationships follow a pattern that offers three important corollaries to our cohort- 
based definition of a “generation”: 

• A generation's parents (or children ) are distributed over the two preceding 

(or two succeeding) generations; 

• A generation s early or “first-wave” cohorts are likely to have an earlier 

parent generation than late or “last-wave” cohorts; and 

• Each generation has an especially strong nurturing influence on the second 

succeeding generation . 

The first rule reflects the link between the age distribution of childbearing 
(with the average age of mothers and fathers typically ranging from 20 to 45) 
and the average length of successive generations (twenty-two years). Consider 
parents belonging to the Silent Generation, the 1925-to-1942 cohort-group. With 
a few stray exceptions, their earliest children appeared in the mid- 1940s, bom 
to young parents themselves bom in 1925; their latest children appeared in the 
early 1980s, bom to midlife parents themselves bom in 1942. The total birthyear 
span from the eldest to the youngest children of Silent parents thus approximates 
the combined 1 943-to- 198 1 birthyear span of the Boom and 13th Generations. 
The distribution, moreover, is bell-shaped — meaning that most of these children 
were Boomers bom in the 1950s and 13ers bom in the 1960s. Continuing down 
the family tree, we would find that each generation spreads its grandchildren 
roughly over three later generations — the second, third, and fourth successors. 

The second rule, the distinction between what we call a generation’s “first 
wave” and “last wave,” helps us understand differences in the nurture received 
by early as opposed to late cohorts in any single generation. Boomers are a good 
example: Their first wave (bom in the mid- 1940s) includes mostly children of 
confident G.I.s, their last wave (bom in the late 1950s) mostly children of the 
more ambivalent Silent. This distinction, in turn, can produce differences in the 



BELONGING TO A “GENERATION” 


63 


behavior later expressed by a generation’s two waves. Among Boomers, for 
instance, the last wave came of age showing more pathologies (crime, drug use, 
suicide, low aptitude scores) than the first wave. 

Finally, the crucial nurturing relationships between generations two apart 
reflect the greater social influence of older over younger parents. By 1960 (the 
last Boom birthyear), G.I. and Silent parents were raising Boomer children in 
roughly equal numbers. But the fortyish and fiftyish G.I.s — from Dr. Spock and 
Walt Disney to school principals and scout leaders — had much greater influence 
in 1960 over the childhood environment than did the twenty ish and thirtyish 
Silent. Similarly, the 1970s were a decade in which Silent and Boom parents 
together raised 13er children, but the fortyish Silent set the tone — from Sesame 
Street and open classrooms to rising divorce rates and the decline of G-rated 
movies. Now, as the 1990s dawn, Boomers (not 13ers) are asserting control of 
the world of Millennial children. Between any two parenting generations, the 
one in midlife naturally exercises a greater cultural and institutional influence 
than the one in rising adulthood. 


Peer Personality 

So far we have established, in the abstract, something about how generations 
are created, how long they are, and how they relate to family genealogy. But 
how do we actually identify one? For that, we have to focus our attention on 
“peer personality” — the element in our definition that distinguishes a generation 
as a cohesive cohort-group with its own unique biography. The peer personality 
of a generation is essentially a caricature of its prototypical member. It is, in its 
sum of attributes, a distinctly personlike creation. A generation has collective 
attitudes about family life, sex roles, institutions, politics, religion, lifestyle, 
and the future. It can be safe or reckless, calm or aggressive, self-absorbed or 
outer-driven, generous or selfish, spiritual or secular, interested in culture or 
interested in politics. In short, it can think, feel, or do anything an individual 
might think, feel, or do. Between any two generations, as between any two 
neighbors, such personalities can mesh, clash, be attracted to or repelled by one 
another. 

As a social category, a generation probably offers a safer basis for personality 
generalization than such other social categories as sex, race, region, or age. We 
can more easily fix a consensus personality for the Lost (or for Boomers) than 
we ever could for women, or Hispanics, or Californians, or all the 30-year-olds 
of a given century. The reason, in the words of Italian historian Giuseppe Ferrari, 
is that a generation “is bom, lives, and dies.” Like any individual — and unlike 
other social groups — a generation collectively feels historical urgency and fi- 
nality, conscious of the unrepeatable opportunities offered by whatever phase 



64 


GENERATIONS 


of life it occupies. It understands that work left undone at each phase of life 
may never be done by others — or at least not in a way an aging generation might 
wish it done. In contrast, a sex, an age bracket, and (probably) a race will endure 
as long as the human species survives. 

Like any group, a generation includes all kinds of people. Yet individual 
divergences from peer personality, and how those divergences are perceived, 
can explain much about a generation. In some respects, a peer personality gives 
heavy focus to the attitudes and experiences of the generational elite — what 
Ferrari called i capi della societa, i re del pensiero , i signori della generazione 
(“the heads of society, the kings of thought, the lords of the generation”). But 
while they commonly express the tone of a generation’s peer personality, the 
personality itself is often established by non-elites. In particular, the attitudes 
of women and mothers toward their own sex roles and family roles are central 
to a generation’s peer personality. Likewise, groups which are (or feel) at the 
social periphery — immigrants, blacks, fundamentalists — often play a major role 
in fixing or revealing their generation’s peer personality. 

We can use peer personality to identify a generation and find the boundaries 
separating it from its neighbors. To do so, we need a working definition — one 
that will tell us what evidence we need and how to evaluate it. We offer the 
following three-part test: 

• A PEER PERSONALITY is a generational persona recognized and determined 
by (1) common age location; (2) common beliefs and behavior; and (3) 
perceived membership in a common generation. 

To assess the peer personality of any cohort-group, we look first at its chro- 
nology: its common age location, where its lifecycle is positioned against the 
background chronology of historic trends and events. Second, we look at its 
attributes: objective measures of its common beliefs and behavior, identifying 
which cohorts share common personality traits. Third, we look at awareness: 
how society perceives membership in a common generation — that is, who is 
generally considered a member and who is not. 


Chronology: Common Age Location in History 

Practically all generations writers have agreed that members of a generation 
feel the ebb and flow of history from basically the same age or phase-of-life 
perspective. To find a generation, we look for a cohort-group whose members 
“came along at the same time” (as Wolfe put it) — who are nurtured as children, 
enter adulthood, and pass through subsequent life phases during eras that show 
no sudden discontinuities. Studying his tempestuous (Hitlerian) peers from 
abroad, the German sociologist Karl Mannheim invented the term Generations- 



BELONGING TO A “GENERATION” 


65 


lager ung (“generational setting”) to refer to the sense of common historical 
location shared by a well-defined cohort-group. He described it as “a community 
of date and space” and “a common location in the historical dimension of the 
social process” in which a generation encounters “the same concrete historical 
problems.” Mannheim’s Spanish peer Jose Ortega y Gasset similarly defined a 
generation as a set of “coetaneous” cohorts, bom within “zones of dates” 
which make them “the same age vitally and historically.” 

Within each generation, a sense of social community — reinforced by the 
expectations of elders — can create something akin to gravity and pull outlying 
cohorts into a common peer personality. At any one time, a generation of average 
length can stretch from newborn babies to graduate students or, alternatively, 
from 19- to 40-year-olds. Any major event will touch its youngest and oldest 
members in dissimilar ways, even when they belong to the same phase of life. 
But the experiences of a few important cohorts can strongly influence the lifelong 
reflections of a much larger cohort-group. Austrian historian Wilhelm Pinder 
wrote of “decisive clusters of births” which develop a “generational entelechy,” 
a social and emotional center of gravity pulling at a larger group of slightly older 
or younger peers. 

Consider, as a modem example, the World War II combat cohorts bom 
between 1915 and 1924. They pulled on older (but not younger) cohorts, who 
saw themselves participating in the same collective struggle — taking the same 
risks and earning the same rewards. Or consider the draft-influenced Vietnam- 
era cohorts bom between 1943 and 1949. They pulled on younger (but not older) 
cohorts who identified with their experiences. Cheryl Merser recalls that, for 
many Boomers bom in the 1950s, their “sixties took place in the seventies.” 
Merser uses the word “sixties” to identify not a date-fixed era, but a sense of 
generational setting. Her classmates came of age with something everyone would 
recognize as a “sixties” experience, albeit dislocated and not quite authentic. 
No one had his “sixties” in the fifties or eighties. Likewise, it would be mean- 
ingless to speak of anyone having his “seventies” in the eighties. People bom 
in 1944 and 1954 are, by this definition, part of the same Generationslagerung . 
Those bom in 1964 are not. 

To find boundaries between generations, we look closely at the history sur- 
rounding two moments: birth and coming of age. Some boundaries arise in years 
when older generations, especially parents, change their nurturing attitudes to- 
ward children. As we shall see, such shifts in child nurture typically occur during 
or just after eras of exceptional spiritual fervor (for example, the 1741-1742, 
1842-1843, or 1981-1982 shifts) or during or just after major crises in public 
life (the 1 859- 1 860 or 1 942- 1 943 shifts) . Generational boundaries can also result 
from sudden differences in how war hits members of adjacent cohorts (1842- 
1843, 1900-1901, or 1924-1925) or in how the ebbing of spiritual enthusiasm 
closes a door of communication between coming-of-age youngsters of successive 
cohorts (1723-1724, 1882-1883, or 1960-1961). There is no single rule for 



66 


GENERATIONS 


locating a decisive shift in age location that divides adjacent generations. Usually, 
many historical trends are at work, most of them pointing to the same boundary. 


Attributes: Common Beliefs and Behavior 

As a generation ages, its inner beliefs retain a certain consistency over its 
lifecycle, much like the personality of an individual growing older. Writing in 
the nineteenth century, Auguste Comte noted how each generation develops a 
“unanimous adherence to certain fundamental notions.” Wilhelm Dilthey spoke 
of a generational Weltanschauung , a web of beliefs and attitudes about ultimate 
questions that each generation carries with it from rising adulthood through old 
age. Certain important behavioral traits also offer important clues about gener- 
ational boundaries. Sometimes we notice a boundary when we observe social 
pathologies peaking and then receding in frequency — as, for example, across 
the troubled cohorts of the early 1960s that we examined earlier. Almost any 
kind of data can offer evidence about peer personalities: data on marriage, crime, 
fertility, suicide, education, aptitude, accidents, divorce, drug consumption, 
alcoholism, voting, work habits, and ambition. Telling contrasts often appear 
in famous personages bom across adjacent cohorts (for example, across the 1723— 
1724, 1821-1822, 1859-1860, and 1924-1925 cohort pairs). 

The beliefs and behavior of a generation never show up uniformly across all 
of its members. As Ortega observed, the generational experience is a “dynamic 
compromise between the mass and the individual.” But even those who differ 
from the peer norm are generally aware of their noncomformity. Within each 
generation, we find examples of what the German sociologist Julius Peterson 
called “directive,” “directed,” and “suppressed” individual personalities. The 
“directive” individual helps set the overall tone, the “directed” follows and 
legitimizes his peers’ mind-set, and the “suppressed” either withdraws from his 
peers or spends a lifetime struggling against them. A “directive” in one gen- 
eration might have been a “suppressed” in another, or vice versa — but any 
individual is well aware of the difference between reality and might-have-beens. 
Among G.I.s, for example, Walt Disney was a “directive” tone-setter, Walter 
Cronkite a “directed” tone-follower, and Jack Kerouac a “suppressed” rebel 
who struggled against his generation. Among G.I. Presidents, we might describe 
Kennedy, Johnson, and Reagan as “directive”; Nixon, Ford, and Bush as “di- 
rected”; and Carter as “suppressed.” (Carter’s fixation on fair process, “ma- 
laise,” and “small earth” rhetoric aligned him with his juniors, in clear 
opposition to his own hubristic G.I. peers.) 

Consider one present-day example of “directive” and “suppressed” types: 
the findings of the annual UCLA survey of college freshmen. From the late 
1960s to the late 1980s, the share of all students giving high priority to “de- 
veloping a philosophy of life” has fallen, roughly, from 80 percent to 40 per- 



BELONGING TO A "GENERATION” 


67 


cent — while the share that prefers "being very well off financially” has risen 
commensurately. In both eras, clearly, plenty of young people have been in both 
camps. But, also in both eras, people in the minority have been acutely aware 
that they are running against the tide of their peer consensus. In 1970, any college 
senior who interviewed for a job with Dow Chemical (maker of napalm) had 
heavy explaining to do when he came back to his dorm room. In 1990, by 
contrast, any youngster who picketed a Dow recruiter was looked upon as a 
throwback by peers who generally agreed that "Dow Lets You Do Great 
Things.” A one-third-to-two-thirds electoral victory is usually considered a co- 
lossal landslide that lets both winners and losers know exactly where they stand. 
The same holds for peer personality. As Thomas Wolfe warned, “You can’t get 
away from it.” 

We can apply no reductive rules for comparing the beliefs and behavior of 
one cohort-group with those of its neighbors. Social science data, though vital, 
must be interpreted in the proper historical context. We always have to ask what 
each statistic tells us about the total person — about the balance between inner 
and outer life, or risk-taking, or individual self-esteem, or collective self- 
confidence. Trends in alcohol and drug consumption data generally do reflect 
the same personality traits over the centuries: High rates of substance abuse have 
always indicated an attraction to risk, a passion for self-discovery, and defiance 
of institutional norms. The rise in drug and alcohol consumption during the 
1890s says much the same about generations alive in 1910 as the rise during the 
1960s and 1970s says about generations alive today. Average marriage age, on 
the other hand, must be interpreted differently from decade to decade depending 
on social conventions. In the early 1700s, coming-of-age men who wanted to 
conform to elders’ expectations and reduce lifetime risks tended to delay marriage 
and stay with their parents. In the 1950s, by contrast, young men and women 
pursued the same goals by accelerating marriage and moving out early. 


Awareness: Perceived Membership 
in a Common Generation 

"Each of us moves with the men of our generation,” Julian Marfas observed 
two decades ago. "To ask ourselves to which generation we belong is, in large 
measure, to ask who we are.” Most people know their own generation. And 
they usually have a good intuitive feeling for the generational membership of 
their next-elders and next-juniors. 

Awareness of generational membership helps us most with boundary cohorts 
possessed of Pinder’s "entelechy.” Even when these cohorts reveal few objective 
clues about where they belong, they often cry out with unambiguous subjective 
perceptions. The hardboiled Lost novelists bom in 1898-1899 (like Fitzgerald 
and Hemingway) made it clear that they felt hugely different from what Fitzgerald 



68 


GENERATIONS 


called the “bright and alien” youngsters (like Lindbergh and Disney) bom in 
1901-1902. The lifelong media ripple that has accompanied the 1943 cohort 
offers an even better example of how awareness can nail down a generational 
boundary. These Americans were the first toddlers to be labeled “Dr. Spock” 
children; the first high school debaters to include self-described “extremists”; 
the first college class (1965) to be called “radical”; the first Vietnam-era draft- 
card burners; the eldest among the “Americans Under 25” whom Time magazine 
named its “1967 Man of the Year”; and among the last 29-year-olds (in 1972) 
who still heard the phrase “under-30 generation” before its sudden disappear- 
ance. Today, find a person bom in 1943. Ask him whether he identifies with 
those a bit older or younger than himself. Probably, he will say the latter. Find 
someone bom in 1942, and the answer will just as probably be the opposite. 

Generational awareness applies not only to where a cohort-group finds itself 
today, but also to where it is expected to go tomorrow. Ortega likens a fully 
come-of-age generation to “a species of biological missile hurled into space at 
a given instant, with a certain velocity and direction,” on a “preestablished vital 
trajectory.” Mannheim calls this a generation’s “essential destiny.” For some 
generations, this sense of destiny is very strong; for others it is nonexistent. The 
cohesion of postwar G.I.s reflected a keen generational consensus about the 
world they wanted and expected to build — adding to the sense of collective 
triumph when John Kennedy brought his peers to power in 1961. Two earlier 
American generations also shared a strong sense of Mannheim’s “essential des- 
tiny” in reconstructing the outer world: the peers of Thomas Jefferson and the 
peers of Cotton Mather. In all three cases, elders and juniors alive at the time 
reinforced this expectation: They too expected greatness from these generations. 

A generation, like an individual, merges many different qualities, no one of 
which is definitive standing alone. But once all the evidence is assembled, we 
can build a persuasive case for identifying (by birthyear) eighteen generations 
over the course of American history. All Americans bom over the past four 
centuries have belonged to one or another of these generations. To paraphrase 
Wolfe, they belonged whether they wanted to or not. 

Our next and deeper challenge is to identify recurring elements in these peer 
personalities, suggestive of a relationship between the sequence of generations 
and the larger pattern of history. We now turn to the cycle. 



Chapter 4 


THE FOUR-PART 
CYCLE 


Virtually every American in his fifties or older in 1991 remembers where 
he was, what he was doing, and how old he was when the Japanese attacked 
Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor Sunday was unquestionably a 
generation-shaping event. To mobilize America for total war, each generation 
suddenly defined (or redefined) itself according to its phase-of-life role: aging 
Missionaries as stewards of national purpose, midlife Lost as on-the-scene man- 
agers, rising-adult G.I.s as soldiers and workers, and Silent children as stay- 
out-of-the-way dependents. Move forward a half century and picture how the 
principal generations alive today look back on (and remain associated with) 
World War II. The G.I.s fought it, the Silent saw it through a child’s awestruck 
eyes. Boomers were nurtured in its exuberant aftermath, and 13ers know it only 
as “history.” 

Now repeat this exercise with the headline events that marked the month 
between July 18 and August 18, 1969: the first Apollo moon landing, Chap- 
paquiddick, and Woodstock. Much like Pearl Harbor Sunday, the midsummer 
of 1969 anchored a pivotal era of generational definition. Once again, Americans 
of all ages played out their respective phase-of-life roles — though this time, of 
course, the collective result was maximum convulsion rather than maximum 
cooperation. Speaking for the aging G.I.s, now the all-powerful stewards of 
national direction, Richard Nixon announced after the moon landing: “This is 
the greatest week in the history of mankind since the Creation.” By now feeling 


/:n 



70 


GENERATIONS 


frustrated, the Silent began to break away from their rising-adult conformism 
and to find fault with G.I. constructions. Anthony Lewis complained that the 
Apollo mission gave him “a guilty conscience” — and Ted Kennedy’s ill-fated 
adventure signaled the traumatic, divorce-plagued future awaiting Silent-led fam- 
ilies. Meanwhile, at Woodstock, coming-of-age Boomers established a gener- 
ational community that was as defiantly anti-G.I. as anything they could possibly 
have concocted. And in the newly self-absorbed culture of the late 1960s, child 
13ers found themselves emotionally uninvited in a world that expected kids to 
grow up fast. Over the next decade of social upheaval, each generation would 
again define (or redefine) itself, and in so doing would entirely recast the phase 
of life it was entering: G.I.s (elderhood), Silent (midlife), Boomers (rising adult- 
hood), and 13ers (youth). 

These two events — and the eras surrounding them — clearly made a strong 
impression on the generations participating in them. And by reading along their 
separate diagonals, we can imagine how each of these generations constitutes 
an active, living bridge between the mood of D-Day and the mood of the moon 
landing, divorce epidemic, and Woodstock several decades later. World War II 
empowered G.I.s as America’s greatest twentieth-century collection of civic 
doers and rationalists. So too did it encourage them to overreach as they ap- 
proached elderhood — a hubris that appeared arrogant and soulless to their juniors. 
The Silent, painfully aware of their own lack of catharsis, came of age emulating 
their war-hero next-elders — and then, on the edge of midlife, began to com- 
pensate by engaging in high-risk personal behavior. Among Boomers, the post- 
war G.I. dogma of science and optimism planted the seeds of spiritual rebellion 
and defiance. A still-younger generation of 13ers, disconnected from the focal 
event that had influenced all three of their generational elders, passed through 
childhood without an adult-perceived mission. 

Since 1969, the span of roughly one more generation has passed. Everyone 
has moved up one lifecycle notch, and Millennials are now replacing 13ers in 
youth. Yet memories of World War II and the late 1960s still define generational 
mind-sets. In January 1989, in his last speech to the nation as President, G.I. 
Ronald Reagan regretted the fading memory of World War II heroism and urged 
Americans to teach what he termed “civic ritual” to Millennial schoolchildren. 
A baby bom on the day Reagan gave that speech had more personal distance 
from Pearl Harbor Sunday — a span of just over forty-seven years — than the 
forty-six-year distance Reagan himself had, as a newborn, from Lee’s final Civil 
War surrender to Grant at Appomattox. Similarly, the echoes of the 1960s live 
on in countless ways in our public and private lives — for example, in the cam- 
paigns of Boomer William Bennett (first as Education Secretary and next as 
“Drug Czar”) to protect children from the lingering detritus of his peers’ coming- 
of-age years, and of Senator Albert Gore to challenge the global environmental 
harms wrought by G.I. science. Just as 5-year-old Boomers grew up amid the 



THE FOUR-PART CYCLE 


71 


giddy optimism of secular achievement, 5-year-old Millennial are being nurtured 
in the sober aftermath of spiritual discovery. 

What we see in this unfolding tale is part of a generational cycle — and the 
importance of what we call “social moments” in directing its evolution. Were 
we to back up to the years around 1910, we would find ourselves at a similar 
position in a prior cycle. And we would sense the influence of a comparable 
pair of prior social moments (the Civil War and the tumultuous 1890s) in defining 
the American generations alive at that time and reinforcing similar differences 
in their peer personalities at each phase of life. 

• A SOCIAL MOMENT is an era , typically lasting about a decade, when people 

perceive that historic events are radically altering their social environment. 

How do we know a social moment when we see it? The best way is to live 
through one, or to listen to someone who has. It is an era when everyone senses — 
at the time and afterward — that history is moving swiftly, that the familiar world 
is disappearing and a new world is emerging. One such moment arrived with 
Franklin Roosevelt’s election in 1932 and stretched through VJ-Day in 1945. 
Those thirteen years visibly rearranged nearly every feature of the American 
social landscape, from the function of government and the organization of the 
economy to man’s relationship with technology and the U.S. role in world affairs. 
The next such moment arrived in the late 1960s and lasted through the 1970s. 
During that “Consciousness Revolution,” Americans again experienced a re- 
shuffling of national life, an amalgam of radical changes in attitudes toward 
family, language, dress, duty, community, sex, and art. Pick any cultural artifact 
created in this century — from novels to slang to clothing — and even if you could 
say nothing else about it, you could probably tell whether it came along before, 
during, or after this “revolution.” As these two examples suggest, social mo- 
ments can be very different from one another. In fact: 

• There are two types of social moments: SECULAR CRISES, when society 

focuses on reordering the outer world of institutions and public behavior; 
and SPIRITUAL AWAKENINGS, when society focuses on changing the 
inner world of values and private behavior. 

Social moments do not arrive at random. For example, a secular crisis and 
a spiritual awakening never occur back to back. Nor does half a century ever 
pass without a social moment of either type. Instead, social moments arrive on 
a rather regular schedule. 

• Social moments normally arrive in time intervals roughly separated by two 

phases of life ( approximately forty to forty-five years), and they alternate 
in type between secular crises and spiritual awakenings . 



72 


GENERATIONS 


In Appendix A, we explain in some detail how and why this timing of social 
moments tends to occur in nontraditional societies like America, and how it is 
linked to a cyclical creation of generations and generational types. At the heart 
of our explanation lies the premise that each generation tries to redefine the 
social role of older phases of life as it matures through them. After a social 
moment has reinforced a “dependent” social role in children, for example, that 
cohort-group will later try to redefine rising adulthood in terms of that depend- 
ence. (Picture the Silent peers of Michael Dukakis and Gary Hart, the passive 
children of depression and war who came of age during the culturally quiescent 
1950s.) Likewise, rising adults in whom an “active” role was reinforced will 
try to retain that role as they move into midlife. (Picture the G.I. peers of John 
Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who reached adulthood in World War II, then 
chafed impatiently until they surged to power around 1960.) 

Such redefinitions sustain themselves through one phase-of-life transition. 
They cannot, however, work through two such transitions. A dependent role 
cannot be transferred into midlife, nor an active role into elderhood. At that 
point — roughly two phases removed from the earlier social moment — the grow- 
ing incongruity between peer personality and age must induce a new social 
moment and realign social roles back into their original life phases. The midlife 
Silent, for instance, could not retain their dependency role — prompting the sud- 
den emphasis on personal redefinition (and risk-taking) that Gail Sheehy labeled 
“passages.” The new social moment represents a reaction against the ossifying 
and dysfunctional roles forged by each generation during the earlier social mo- 
ment. As a result, the new social moment will be opposite in type from the one 
that came before. Fueling the secular changes of the Depression and World War 
II, for example, were rising-adult G.I.s who helped steer America away from 
what they considered to be futile moralisms left over from tum-of-the-century 
reform movements. Likewise, fueling the spiritual changes of the late 1960s and 
1970s were rising-adult Boomers who prodded America away from postwar 
secularism and back toward a fresh commitment to moral passion. 

This two-life-phase pattern means that the age location of successive gener- 
ations, relative to any social moment, falls into an alternating rhythm. If the 
first generation (say, the G.I.s) is entering rising adulthood during one social 
moment, then the second generation (Silent) is entering youth during the same 
moment, the third (Boom) entering rising adulthood during the second moment, 
the fourth (13th) entering youth during the second moment, and so on. We label 
generations with the first and third age location (Boom and G.I.) as “dominant” 
generations; those with the second and fourth (Silent and 13th) as “recessive.” 
In other words: 

• During social moments, DOMINANT generations are entering rising adult- 
hood and elderhood. 



THE FOUR-PART CYCLE 


73 


• During social moments , RECESSIVE generations are entering youth and 
midlife. 

We display the pattern schematically in Figure 4-1, again with phases of life 
on the vertical and calendar years on the horizontal. (Since social moments 
normally arise as each generation is entering a phase of life, with each moment 
typically culminating when the generation has fully entered it, we show them 
appearing somewhat before each twenty-two-year interval.) Read along the gen- 
erational diagonal, and notice how dominant and recessive generations pass 
through social moments at alternating life phases. 

FIGURE 4-1 

The Generational Diagonal: 

Dominant and Recessive Generations 


SOCIAL MOMENT 


YEAR 

ELDER 

Age 66-87 

MIDLIFE 

Age 44-65 

RISING 

Age 22-43 

YOUTH 

Age 0-21 


Secular Spiritual 

Crisis Awakening 

Year 0 _ Year 22 Year 44 _ Year 66 


Recessive ~ Dominant Recessive — Dominant 



Dominant 




Each generation shown in Figure 4-1 has a unique age location relative to 
each type of social moment. Of the two dominant generations, one enters rising 
adulthood during a crisis and enters elderhood during an awakening, the other 
the opposite. Of the two recessive generations, one enters youth during a crisis 
and enters midlife during an awakening, the other the opposite. Thus, every 
generation has a unique phase-of-life position before and after each type of social 
moment, a unique set of generational neighbors, and (recalling our genealogical 
discussion in Chapter 3) a unique combination of parents and children. Conse- 
quently, each of the four generations develops its own unique type of peer 
personality. 

These four generational types recur in a fixed order. Moving up vertically 
from the youths in year 44 of Figure 4- 1 , their lifecycles can be described as 
follows: 



74 


GENERATIONS 


1 . A dominant, inner-fixated IDEALIST GENERATION grows up as increas- 
ingly indulged youths after a secular crisis; comes of age inspiring a spiritual 
awakening; fragments into narcissistic rising adults; cultivates principle as 
moralistic midlifers; and emerges as visionary elders guiding the next secular 
crisis. 

2. A recessive REACTIVE GENERATION grows up as underprotected and 
criticized youths during a spiritual awakening; matures into risk-taking, 
alienated rising adults; mellows into pragmatic midlife leaders during a secular 
crisis; and maintains respect (but less influence) as reclusive elders. 

3. A dominant, outer-fixated CIVIC GENERATION grows up as increasingly 
protected youths after a spiritual awakening; comes of age overcoming a 
secular crisis; unites into a heroic and achieving cadre of rising adults; sustains 
that image while building institutions as powerful midlifers; and emerges as 
busy elders attacked by the next spiritual awakening. 

4. A recessive ADAPTIVE GENERATION grows up as overprotected and suf- 
focated youths during a secular crisis; matures into risk-averse, conformist 
rising adults; produces indecisive midlife arbitrator- leaders during a spiritual 
awakening; and maintains influence (but less respect) as sensitive elders. 

The dominant generational types encounter their first social moment entering 
rising adulthood — for (Boomer) Idealists, an awakening; for (G.I.) Civics, a 
crisis. Taking their social roles with them into midlife, they tend to monopolize 
the style of adulthood in the public world — the Idealists dominating rhetoric and 
culture, the Civics technology and institutions. The recessive types — (13er) 
Reactives and (Silent) Adaptives — encounter their first social moment as chil- 
dren. They compensate for their diminished public role by exercising a com- 
mensurately greater influence on the private world of human relationships. 
Raising their own children, for example, Reactives have a tendency to restore 
protectiveness, Adaptives to allow greater freedom. Recessive generations also 
play critical midlife roles in social moments — Adaptives as flexible mediators 
in spiritual awakenings, Reactives as pragmatic managers of secular crises. 

In sum, Idealist generations tend to live what we might label a prophetic life- 
cycle of vision and values; Reactives a picaresque lifecycle of survival and ad- 
venture; Civics a heroic lifecycle of secular achievement and reward; and 
Adaptives a genteel lifecycle of expertise and amelioration. When we reach Chap- 
ter 12, we will return to these lifecycle paradigms in much greater detail. For now, 
let’s take Figure 4-1 one step further, by labeling each of these four types. 

In Figure 4-2 , we see the generational cycle. These four generational types 
recur in fixed order, given one important condition: that society resolves with 
reasonable success each secular crisis that it encounters. When this condition 
does not hold, the cycle experiences an interruption — in effect, skipping a beat. 



THE FOUR-PART CYCLE 


75 


FIGURE 4-2 

From the Diagonal to the Cycle: Four Generational Types 
SOCIAL MOMENT 


YEAR 


Secular 

Crisis 


YearO 


Year 22 


Spiritual 

Awakening 


Year 44 


Year 66 


ELDER 

Age 66-87 

MIDLIFE 

Age 44-65 


RISING 

Age 22-43 


YOUTH 

Age 0-2 1 



If a secular crisis weakens instead of strengthens the confidence of rising 
adults, then a Reactive generation can be followed by an Adaptive rather 
than a Civic. This has happened once in American history, in the nineteenth 
century. We cannot say for sure whether other beats could be skipped. We 
can only say that in America, so far, they have not been. 

If this four-type cycle revolves in a fixed sequence, so too must the shifting 
age location of all four types as they layer themselves from one era to the next. 
Each time one type is entering rising adulthood, for instance, the other types 
entering other phases of life will all line up in a predictable pattern. We call 
each of these four recurring patterns a generational 4 ‘constellation/ * each with 
its own “era” and “mood.” The two-apart eras when Idealists and Civics come 
of age have moods reflecting the social moments (spiritual awakenings or secular 
crises) that occur largely within those eras. The intervening eras when Reactives 
or Adaptives come of age have moods reflecting a period of transition from one 
social moment to the next. 

Picture the cycle of shifting constellations as you might imagine the seasonal 
transformation of nature: alternating between the heat of summer and the cold 
of winter, the germination of spring and the harvest of autumn. Through the 
generational seasons of social history, beginning with a spiritual awakening, we 
see the following four constellational eras and moods: 



76 


GENERATIONS 


• An AWAKENING ERA (Idealists coming of age) triggers cultural creativity 

and the emergence of new ideals, as institutions built around old values are 
challenged by the emergence of a spiritual awakening. 

• In an INNER-DRIVEN ERA (Reactives coming of age), individualism flour- 

ishes, new ideals are cultivated in separate camps, confidence in institutions 
declines, and secular problems are deferred. 

• A CRISIS ERA (Civics coming of age) opens with growing collective unity 

in the face of perceived social peril and culminates in a secular crisis in 
which danger is overcome and one set of new ideals triumphs. 

• In an OUTER-DRIVEN ERA (Adaptives coming of age), society turns toward 

conformity and stability, triumphant ideals are secularized, and spiritual 
discontent is deferred. 

We define the chronological end of each era by locating the specific year of 
what we call an “aligned” constellation: the moment at which the last cohort 
of a new generation is bom and each older generation has fully moved into a 
new phase of life (years 0, 22, 44, and 66 in Figure 4-2). Aligned constellations 
arrive as often as new generations arrive — about once every twenty-two years. 
An Awakening era ends, for example, in the year when the last cohort of a new 
Reactive generation is bom; this will roughly coincide with the year when the 
last cohort of an Idealist generation has entered rising adulthood, and similarly 
when older Adaptive and Civic generations have fully moved into midlife and 
elderhood. (The most recent such year would be 1981; before that, 1900.) At 
this point, the cycle reaches an aligned Awakening constellation. The following 
Inner-Driven era will then last until an aligned Inner-Driven constellation, and 
so on. 

While all four generational types contribute to the nature of each constella- 
tional era, the two dominant types — Idealist and Civic — are key. Coming of 
age into rising adulthood, these two types recast society’s new “active” agenda, 
either from secular to spiritual or vice versa. The G.I.s did this in the years 
between 1932 and 1945, Boomers during the late 1960s and 1970s. Entering 
midlife, with recessive generations behind them, they continue to set the social 
agenda until the next social moment, whether a crisis or an awakening. 

Thus, during both types of social moments, history shapes generations ; yet 
at the same time, by congealing crises and sparking awakenings, generations 
shape history. 

How can this cycle exist in a complicated world? To be sure, history has its 
good and bad surprises and accidents, its good and bad actors: the rise of 
perestroika or the killing of the Austrian archduke; the emergence of a Churchill 
or a Saddam Hussein. Some would say instinctively that history is too cluttered 
to allow for our kind of cycle. But such a prejudice focuses too closely on events 



THE FOUR-PART CYCLE 


77 


without sufficient attention to the response those events generate. It is the re- 
sponse that determines the social moment. Compare, for example, the American 
response to World War I and World War II. Both wars were preceded by 
aggressive foreign acts (the sinking of the Lusitania , the air attack on Pearl 
Harbor). In one case, Congress waited two years before declaring war; in the 
other case, it declared war the next day. In one case, the war helped propel 
divisive movements like Prohibition; in the other, the nation mobilized as a 
single organism. Both wars ended in total victory — but in one case, soldiers 
came home to moral nagging and vice squads; in the other, they came home to 
ticker-tape parades. Both wars strengthened America’s influence overseas — but 
in one case, that influence was quickly squandered; in the other, it was consol- 
idated over the next two decades. 

Why? When a society is in the midst of a Crisis era, as America was in 1941 , 
generational forces tend to congeal a secular crisis from whatever exogenous 
events arise. Had the world not drifted into global depression and war, the cycle 
suggests that some other historic emergency would have gripped the nation, 
given the age location of the respective peer personalities: inner-fixated Mis- 
sionary prophets in their sixties, plucky Lost pragmatists in their forties, outer- 
fixated G.I. doers in their twenties, and the undemanding Silent in childhood. 
America was poised for decisive and effective action. Compare 1941 with 1967 — 
the year of the Tonkin Gulf incident. At that point, America was entering an 
Awakening era. The doers were reaching elderhood, and a new set of prophets 
reaching combat age. Both generations filled their war- waging roles awkwardly, 
and each displeased the other with its behavior. Indeed, the generational cycle 
has significantly influenced how Americans have acted during and after every 
major war in their history. Which wars occurred in comparable constellational 
moods? The Revolution and World War II (Crisis eras). The War of 1812 and 
Korea (Outer-Driven eras). The French and Indian War and World War I (Inner- 
Driven eras). What many historians consider the nation’s most misguided wars — 
the Spanish- American and Vietnam — were waged during the social turmoil of 
Awakening eras. These parallels are instructive. They suggest how fortunate 
America may have been that the world’s hour of fascist peril came when it did, 
and not a quarter century earlier or later. 

Wars and other secular crises are triggered from without, spiritual awakenings 
from within. Less dependent on outside events, spiritual awakenings are almost 
entirely endogenous to the generational cycle. The specific year of their emer- 
gence may hinge on political events (as in 1621), economic conditions (1886), 
a war (1967), or simply an overdose of heroic fathers (1734 and 1822). The 
examples of the Awakeners in the 1730s and Transcendental in the 1820s show 
how, sooner or later, these awakenings will arise even in the absence of specific 
historical sparks. We can reasonably conclude that the Puritans would eventually 
have erupted without their ostracism (though not necessarily by sending offshoots 
to America), Transcendental without abolitionism, Missionaries without Hay- 



78 


GENERATIONS 


market and agrarian revolt, and Boomers without Vietnam and urban riots. Put 
simply, Idealist generations are nurtured to burst forth spiritually upon coming 
of age. When they do, they awaken other generations along with them. 

The generational cycle is deterministic only in its broadest outlines; it does 
not guarantee good or bad outcomes. Each generation has flaws, and each con- 
stellational mood comes with dangers. The Missionary generation could have 
produced a zealot President (Mitchell Palmer, for instance) who, in turn, might 
have touched off a socialist insurrection. Instead, it produced the principled if 
inflexible Herbert Hoover and later — for the darkest hour — Franklin Roosevelt. 
And notwithstanding all the deserved admiration Americans bestow on the mem- 
ory of Lincoln, his generation triggered the one major crisis in American history 
for which it is easy to imagine a better outcome for everyone — Union, Confed- 
erate, and slave. In its tragedy, the Civil War offers an important normative 
lesson for all generations alive today. The cycle provides each generation with 
a location in history, a peer personality, and a set of possible scripts to follow. 
But it leaves each generation free to express either its better or its worse instincts, 
to choose a script that posterity may later read with gratitude or sorrow. 

Recall our discussion in Chapter 2 where we first discovered the generational 
diagonal. In Figures 2-2 and 2-3, the eras between the first two and last two 
columns (1920-1942 and 1964-1986) roughly encompass America’s most recent 
moments of secular crisis (1932-1945) and spiritual awakening (1967-1980). 
Note that the adjectives match those in our four-part typology of generations. 
When we combine all the generational names, types, and adjectives, we see the 
diagonals shown in Figure 4-3. Note also that the “aligned” dates shown here, 
each exactly twenty-two years from the next, do not coincide perfectly with 
actual generational boundaries. As we shall see in the next chapter, the actual 
aligned dates (when the last cohort of each new generation is bom) are 1924, 
1942, 1960, and 1981 . Remember, neither a generation nor a constellational era 
is always precisely twenty-two years long. 

This is the generational cycle as it has unfolded during the first eight decades 
of the twentieth century. In the second and fourth columns, we see the Crisis 
and Awakening constellations with which we began the chapter. Reading along 
the diagonal, lower left to upper right, we can identify the connections between 
social moments and peer personality. 

What would we see if we extended this chart to the left, through four centuries? 
The dynamics of the generational cycle suggest we should find much the same 
pattern — of constellational eras and generational types both. Let’s now take a 
look at what actually has happened in American history — with eighteen gen- 
erations in five cycles. We shall find that, in all but the Civil War Cycle, the 
pattern has held. 



THE FOUR-PART CYCLE 


79 


FIGURE 4-3 

The Generational Diagonal in the Twentieth Century 


SOCIAL MOMENT 




Inner- 

Secular 

Crisis 

Outer- 

Spiritual 

Awakening 

Constel - 

Driven 

Crisis 

driven 

Awakening 

lational 

Era 

Era 

Era 

Era 

Era 

1901-24 

1925-42 

1943-60 

1961-81 


ALIGNED YEAR 


ELDERHOOD 


MIDLIFE 


RISING 

ADULTHOOD 


YOUTH 


PROGRESSIVE -MISSIONARY 
(Adaptive) — (Idealist) 

sensitive _ visionary 


MISSIONARY 
(Idealist) s 
moralistic 


LOST 
(Reactive) - 
alienated 


G.I. 

(Civic) 

protected 


LOST 

(Reactive)-/ 

pragmatic 


SILENT 
(Adaptive) - 
suffocated 


LOST 

(Reactive) 

reclusive 


G.I. 

(Civic) - 
powerful 


SILENT 
(Adaptive) > 
conformist 


BOOM 

(Idealist) 

indulged 


SILENT 
_ (Adaptive) 
- indecisive 


BOOM 

(Idealist) 


rHIRTEENTH 
- (Reactive) 
criticized 





Chapter 5 


THE CYCLE 
IN AMERICA 


afternoon in April 1689 — as the American colonies boiled with rumors 
that King James II was about to shackle them into slavery — the King’s hand- 
picked governor of New England, Sir Edmund Andros, marched his troops 
menacingly through Boston to let the locals know their place. The future of 
America looked grim. Yet just at that moment, seemingly from nowhere, there 
emerged on the streets “the figure of an ancient man,” a “Gray Champion” 
with “the eye, the face, the attitude of command.” The old man planted himself 
directly in front of the approaching British soldiers and demanded they stop. His 
dress, “combining the leader and the saint,” and “the solemn, yet warlike peal 
of that voice, fit either to rule a host in the battlefield or be raised to God in 
prayer, were irresistible. At the old man’s word and outstretched arm, the roll 
of the drum was hushed at once, and the advancing line stood still.” Inspired 
by that single act, the people of Boston roused their courage and acted. Within 
the day, Andros was deposed and jailed, and the liberty of colonial America 
was saved. 

“Who was this Gray Champion?” asks Nathaniel Hawthorne at the end of 
this story in Twice-Told Tales. No one knew, except that he was once one of 
the fire-hearted young Puritans who first settled New England a half century 
earlier. Later that very evening, just before he disappeared, he was seen em- 
bracing the 85-year-old Simon Bradstreet, a kindred spirit and one of the very 
few original Puritans still alive. “I have heard,” adds Hawthorne, “that when- 



THE CYCLE IN AMERICA 


81 


ever the descendants of the Puritans are to show the spirit of their sires, the old 
man appears again.” 

One such moment arrived, of course, during the revolutionary summer of 
1775 — when elder Americans once again appealed to God, called the young to 
war, and dared the hated enemy to fire. And indeed, notes Hawthorne, “when 
eighty years had passed,” the Gray Champion walked once more. “When our 
fathers were toiling at the breastwork on Bunker’s Hill, all through that night 
the old warrior walked his rounds. Long, long may it be ere he comes again! 
His hour is one of darkness, and adversity, and peril. But should domestic tyranny 
oppress us, or the invaders’ step pollute our soil, still may the Gray Champion 
come. ...” 

Hawthorne did not say who the next Gray Champion would be or when he 
would return — though perhaps he should have been able to tell. Hawthorne 
wrote this stirring legend in 1837 as a young man of 33. Had he counted another 
eight or nine decades forward from Bunker Hill, he might have guessed that the 
next Gray Champions would come from among his own peers — a generation 
seared young by God and destined late in life to face an hour of “darkness, and 
adversity, and peril.” Hawthorne would someday learn their names: John Brown, 
damning the unrighteous from his scaffold and condemning them to rivers of 
blood; General William Tecumseh Sherman, scorching the earth of Georgia with 
“the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword” while “His truth is marching 
on”; or Robert E. Lee, thrusting out his authoritative baton and sending thousands 
of young men to die before Cemetery Ridge. 

Moving ahead yet another eight or nine decades, America once again saw 
the Gray Champion return — an aging, principled generation pursuing its “Ren- 
dezvous with Destiny.” Many Americans alive today can recall the unflinching 
demeanor of Douglas MacArthur, Henry Kaiser, George Marshall — and, above 
all, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

In each of America’s decisive moments of secular crisis — the Glorious Rev- 
olution of 1689, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the twin emer- 
gencies of the Great Depression and World War II — this society has witnessed 
the cyclical return of a special breed of elder, a very different type from the 
outer-focused, bustling “senior citizens” of the 1970s and 1980s. At each of 
these four history-turning moments, America turned for guidance to aging Ide- 
alists, spiritual warriors possessed of strong inner vision, patriarchs commanding 
the respect and obedience of their juniors. All four of these generations of 
patriarchs had previously been young adults during an era of spiritual awakening; 
none of them had come of age facing a secular crisis even remotely similar to 
the one they faced as grandparents. 

In Chapter 4, we demonstrated how Idealist elders arrive once every gener- 
ational cycle, in what we call a “Crisis constellation.” We also described how 
the three other constellations produce very different moods and events. In this 
chapter, we trace this cycle through four centuries of American history, from 



82 


GENERATIONS 


the 1580s through the 1980s. The model fits: From the first New World colonies 
to the present day, with only one interruption, American history has pulsed to 
the rhythm of the generational cycle. 


Eighteen American Generations 

All things have a beginning, and so must the story of American generations. 

We start with the European cohort-group of 1584 through 1614. We call it 
the “Puritan Generation.” This group amounts to about 25,000 persons (almost 
all of them English, plus a few Dutch settlers) and includes the vast majority of 
the first Old World immigrants to the Atlantic seaboard, the edge of what would 
someday become the United States. 

To be sure, a scattering of earlier-bom immigrants came to this territory. 
But their number was small — certainly fewer than a thousand — and the major- 
ity were fishermen, explorers, and adventurers who had no intention of stay- 
ing. Of the earlier-bom immigrants who did plan to settle permanently, most 
were soon massacred (at Roanoke), forced by hardship to flee back home 
(from Kennebec, Maine), or killed in a few months by disease (in early 
Jamestown). The scant evidence suggests that no more than one hundred per- 
sons bom before 1584 came, settled, and survived more than five years — of 
whom perhaps only two or three dozen were lucky enough to find spouses and 
bear children. The 25,000 members of the Puritan Generation, on the other 
hand, consisted almost entirely of permanent settlers — of whom between 
7,500 and 10,000 survived and bore children in the New World, often in large 
families. Quite simply, the numerical contrast between all pre-1584 cohorts 
and the Puritan Generation is overwhelming. 

Demographic importance is not the only reason we fix our first birthyears 
around these dates. The Puritan Generation also possesses all the striking attri- 
butes of an Idealist-type generation. As an English-bom cohort-group, it came 
into the world just after a secular crisis (a great war with Spain), grew up as 
children under the midlife tutelage of Civic-like Elizabethans, came of age 
triggering one of the most awesome spiritual awakenings known to Europe or 
the New World, and, after several decades in America, aged into the elder 
persona of the “Gray Champion.” 

Raised in the Old World, the Puritan Generation assumed much of its distinct 
personality through self-selecting emigration to America. Yet even their peers 
who stayed in Europe displayed a stunning concentration of radical, inner-fixated 
hilosophers — the likes of Thomas Hobbes (bom in 1588, the same year as John 
Winthrop) and Rene Descartes (bom eight years later). Entirely apart from any 
consideration of America, the Spanish generations writer Jose Ortega y Gasset 
identifies precisely these two birthyears as the center of what he considers a 



THE CYCLE IN AMERICA 


83 


“decisive generation,” the very first generation of “the Modem Age” in western 
civilization. 

Starting with the Puritans and applying the methods discussed in Chapter 3 
to all later cohorts in American history, we locate a total of eighteen generations, 
their birthyear periods stretching in an unbroken series from 1584 to the present 
day. We group them into five generational cycles — each beginning with an 
Idealist-type generation and concluding with an Adaptive type. The first four 
American generations, comprising the Colonial Cycle, remained literally “co- 
lonial” throughout their lifecycles. All four included large proportions of im- 
migrants and were significantly influenced by the shifting personalities of their 
Old World contemporaries. Only when we reach number five — the “Awak- 
eners,” the Idealist trigger of the new Revolutionary Cycle — do we encounter 
the first truly American generation whose parents were mostly native-born and 
whose personality took shape without much assistance from social or cultural 
forces from abroad. This Awakening Generation was also the first to include a 
significant number who, late in life, became citizens of the United States. 

Next come the remaining generations of the Revolutionary Cycle and Civil 
War Cycle, all fully ancestral. Then, in the Great Power Cycle, we find our first 
present-day survivors, including all Americans who reached age 48 by the dawn 
of 1991. Lastly, we arrive at the Millennial Cycle, whose members are still 
arriving by birth and immigration. Altogether, some 440 million American na- 
tionals (or colonists) have ever lived, four-sevenths of whom are alive today. 
The population of each cycle is as follows: 


Colonial Cycle: 
Revolutionary Cycle: 
Civil War Cycle: 
Great Power Cycle: 
Millennial Cycle: 


600,000 people 

8,000,000 people 

50,000,000 people 

200.000. 000 people 

180.000. 000 people (340,000,000 projected by 2025) 


Figure 5-1 lists the eighteen American generations by cycle, type, and birth- 
year cohorts, along with the name of one of the generation’s best-known public 
figures. 

Looking carefully at Figure 5-1, we can recognize the patterns we identified 
in Chapters 3 and 4: 

• Generational boundaries . The first cohort of each of the five Idealist gener- 
ations was bom during or immediately after a secular crisis. For the Puritans, 
the birthyears start four years prior to the culminating English victory over 
the Spanish Armada; for the Awakeners, twelve years after the Glorious 
Revolution; for the Transcendental, three years after the ratification of the 
U.S. Constitution; for the Missionaries, one year before the start of the 
Civil War; and for the Boomers, just after the turning point of World War 



84 


GENERATIONS 


FIGURE 5-1 

Eighteen American Generations 


CYCLE 

GENERATION 

TYPE 

BIRTHYEARS 

SAMPLE MEMBER 

Colonial: 

Puritan 

Idealist 

1584-1614 

John Winthrop 


Cavalier 

Reactive 

1615-1647 

Nathaniel Bacon 


Glorious 

Civic 

1648-1673 

Cotton Mather 


Enlightenment 

Adaptive 

1674-1700 

William Shirley 


Revolutionary: 

Awakening 

Liberty 

Republican 

Compromise 

Idealist 

Reactive 

Civic 

Adaptive 

1701-1723 

1724-1741 

1742-1766 

1767-1791 

Benjamin Franklin 
George Washington 
Thomas Jefferson 
Andrew Jackson 

Civil War: 

Transcendental 

Gilded 

Progressive 

Idealist 

Reactive 

Adaptive 

1792-1821 

1822-1842 

1843-1859 

Abraham Lincoln 
Ulysses Grant 
Theodore Roosevelt 

Great Power: 

Missionary 

Lost 

G.I. 

Silent 

Idealist 

Reactive 

Civic 

Adaptive 

1860-1882 

1883-1900 

1901-1924 

1925-1942 

Franklin Roosevelt 
Dwight Eisenhower 
John Kennedy 
Walter Mondale 

Millennial: 

Boom 

Thirteenth 

Millennial 

Idealist 
Reactive 
Civic (?) 

1943-1960 

1961-1981 

1982- 

Newt Gingrich 
Tom Cruise 
Jessica McClure 


II. Similarly, we can link the first birthyear of each Civic generation with 
the completion (or afterglow) of historic eras of spiritual awakening: 1648, 
1742, 1901, and 1982. 

• Length of generations . The cohort lengths of all seventeen completed American 

generations range from 17 to 33 years and average 23.4 years. The first 
two Colonial Cycle generations were 31 and 33 years long, respectively, 
and were shaped mostly by irregular bursts of immigration to small and 
isolated American settlements. Afterward, only one generation is longer 
than 26 years, and the average length drops to 22.3 years. This average 
roughly matches the 22-year span we postulated (in Chapter 3) between 
birth and the typical coming-of-age moment. 

• The two-stroke rhythm. All generations appear in an alternating sequence of 

dominant (Idealist or Civic) and recessive (Reactive or Adaptive) lifecycles 
with only one exception: the two back-to-back recessives (Gilded and Pro- 
gressive) during the Civil War Cycle. 



THE CYCLE IN AMERICA 


85 


• The four-type cycle. The four generational types appear in a fixed sequence: 

from Idealist to Reactive to Civic to Adaptive — again with the single ex- 
ception of the Civil War Cycle, where a Civic type is missing. 

• Cycles and history. Timed to the alternating rhythm of awakenings and crises, 

each cycle roughly matches a discrete historical epoch in American history, 
with a crisis era at its approximate midpoint. When we move from the dawn 
of one awakening to the dawn of the next (a period roughly extending from 
the coming-of-age of first- wave Idealists through the coming-of-age of last- 
wave Adaptives), we traverse a well-defined period. Four of these periods 
have already been completed: Colonial (1621-1733), Revolutionary (1734— 
1821), Civil War (1822-1885), and Great Power (1886-1966). The fifth — 
Millennial — cycle began in 1967 and is still underway. The first four cycles 
have averaged eighty-nine years in length. The three-generation Civil War 
Cycle, only sixty-four years long, is considerably shorter than the average. 

To our knowledge, we are the first to define, locate, and name the entire 
sequence of American generations. Beginning with the Lost, the reader may 
recognize several generations whose consensus names we have adopted. Except 
for one well-known case, no generation has ever been given precise cohort 
boundaries. That one exception, of course, is the so-called “Baby Boom” gen- 
eration, which demographers often define as a cohort-group spanning the high- 
fertility years of 1946 through 1964. We fix its boundaries a few years earlier — 
to fit our criteria for peer personality, not the fecundity of the Boomers’ parents. 
Also, we toss out the “Baby” and leave the “Boom,” a more appropriate name 
for a generation now entering midlife. 

We are not the first to claim that a generational sequence is an effective means 
of interpreting American history. Working separately, four scholars have sug- 
gested loose generational divisions that closely approximate the boundary lines 
we set. In 1925, historian Arthur Schlesinger described eight generations, from 
Liberty to Missionary, where we find seven. In 1976, Daniel Elazar, a political 
scientist at Temple University, found eleven generations over the Awakener-to- 
13er span, where we identify thirteen. In 1978, Harvard government professor 
Samuel Huntington listed eight generations that roughly match our eight from 
Republicans through G.I.s. And in a superb capsule summary of American 
political generations written in 1976, Brandeis historian Morton Keller identified 
eleven generations where we see eleven, stretching from the Liberty through the 
Boom. 

Despite this close fit, there remains an important difference between our 
approach and what others have written about American generations. Most schol- 
ars have defined generations largely in terms of public activity during rising 
adulthood and midlife. Instead, we look at their entire lifecycles, examine their 
peer personality during each phase of life, and evaluate their private as well as 
public behavior. 



86 


GENERATIONS 


In Chapter 4, we explained how social moments — secular crises and spiritual 
awakenings — lie at the core of the generational cycle. Now that we have iden- 
tified five cycles of American generations, let’s see how they line up with the 
sequence of crises and awakenings that have in fact occurred. Figure 5-2 shows 
this rhythm for the past five centuries. The first two social moments (the Ref- 
ormation Awakening and the Armada Crisis) shaped the peer personalities of 
the immediate English-born ancestors of the Puritan Generation. The next nine 
(beginning with the Puritan Awakening) have all occurred during the lifecycles 
of the eighteen American generations. 

As Figure 5-2 indicates, social moments can run from about one to two decades 
in length. Toward the end of each, there typically occurs a climactic event, a 
specific episode when the social moment reaches maximum emotional impact. 
During secular crises, this may be an event that energizes (Pearl Harbor Sunday 
in 1941, or the colonial Glorious Revolution in 1689), turns the tide (Gettysburg 
in 1863), or culminates an epoch of institution-building (the ratification of the 
U.S. Constitution in 1789). During spiritual awakenings, this climax is typically 
an event that marks a decisive reaction against a euphoric tide of truth-seeking 
and values experimentation: the sudden end of the radical Great Migration to 
New England in 1640; the orthodox counterattack against the Great Awakening 
in 1743; the economic Panic of 1837; or the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. 
When such peak events occur, a social moment can suddenly shape cohort- 
groups into well-defined generations according to their respective phases of life. 
Alternatively, since the entire duration of a social moment can make a deep 
impression on youths in their late teens and mid-twenties, it can shape the entire 
generation as it comes of age. 

Figure 5-2 shows the intervals between the end of one social moment to the 
end of the next. The intervals are not identical, partly because the generational 
bonding process can widen or narrow the exact length of the intervals between 
social moments. For example, the powerful influence of last- wave G.I.s (on 
earlier-bom peers) and first-wave Boomers (on later-bom peers) helped to narrow 
the interval between the World- War-II-era crisis and the Boom Awakening. The 
average interval is forty-four years, matching the forty-four-year span for two 
phases of life. The somewhat longer intervals come early, where we notice 
somewhat longer generations. The single and telling exception is the twenty- 
eight-year interval before the Civil War Crisis, precisely where we observe a 
truncated, three-generation cycle. 

Now let’s take a closer look at these two kinds of social moments. 


Secular Crises 

An important coincidence lies at the heart of American history, a coincidence 
familiar to most historians. The timespans separating the four pivotal events of 



THE CYCLE IN AMERICA 87 

FIGURE 5-2 

Social Moments in American History 


Years from 
End of Crisis 
to End of 
Awakening 

SPIRITUAL 

AWAKENING 

Years from 
End of Awakening 
to End of 
Crisis 

SECULAR 

CRISIS 


(1517-1539) 

49 years 

(1580-1588) 

Pre-Colonial Period 

■ 




Reformation 

Awakening 


Defeat of 
Spanish Armada 

52 years 

(1621-1640) 

52 years 

(1675-1692) 

Colonial Cycle 


Puritan 

Awakening 


Glorious 

Revolution 

51 years 

(1734-1743) 

46 years 

(1773-1789) 

Revolutionary Cycle 


Great 

Awakening 


American 

Revolution 

48 years 

(1822-1837) 

28 years 

(1857-1865) 

Civil War Cycle 





Transcendental 

Awakening 


Civil 

War 

38 years 

(1886-1903) 

42 years 

(1932-1945) 

Great Power Cycle 


Missionary 

Awakening 


Great Depression 
& World War II 

35 years 

(1967-1980) 




Millennial Cycle 


Boom 

Awakening 


88 


GENERATIONS 


American history almost exactly match. Exactly eighty-five years passed between 
the first Confederate shot on Fort Sumter and Pearl Harbor Day. Back up the 
story, and note that eighty five years also passed between Fort Sumter and the 
Declaration of Independence. (Or, as President Lincoln noted, “Four score and 
seven years” separate the first Fourth of July from the Battle of Gettysburg.) 
Back up still further, and note that another eighty-seven years passed between 
the Anglo-American “Glorious Revolution” of 1689 and Independence Day. 
Preceding the Glorious Revolution by a slightly longer period — ninety-nine 
years — was the epochal victory of the English navy over the Spanish Armada. 

All five events marked the culmination of swift and sweeping change in the 
secular world. Each surrounding era witnessed widespread fear for personal and 
social survival, collective unity in the face of peril, and sudden institutional 
change or innovation. Apprehension about the future reached a climax — and 
was followed (in all but the fourth case) by a sense of victory and the dawning 
of a bright new era. We list these five secular crises as follows: 

• The Armada Craw (1850-1588), inEngland, extended from the first overt 

hostilities between England and Spain through Drake’s epic voyage in 
the Golden Hind, and ended with the English destruction of the Spanish 
invasion Armada. Sample rising-adult leaders: Sir Walter Raleigh, 
Francis Bacon, Sir Philip Sydney. 

• The Glorious Revolution Crisis (1675-1692), in the American colonies, ex- 

tended from King Philip’s War and Bacon’s Rebellion through the American 
rebellions against James II, and ended about the time of the Salem witch 
trials. Sample rising-adult leaders: Cotton Mather, John Wise, Peter Schuyler. 

• The American Revolution Crisis (1773-1789), in the American colonies and 

states, extended from the Boston Tea Party through the Declaration of 
Independence and ended with the ratification of the United States Consti- 
tution and the inauguration of President Washington. Sample rising-adult 
leaders: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Marshall. 

• The Civil War Crisis (1857-1865), in the United States, extended from the 

Dred Scott decision, the great Kansas debates, and the fragmentation of the 
Democratic Party, and ended with Lee’s surrender and Lincoln’s assassi- 
nation. Sample rising-adult leaders: Ulysses Grant, Stonewall Jackson, An- 
drew Carnegie. 

• The Great Depression-World War II Crisis (1932-1945), in the United States, 

extended from the bleakest depression year and Franklin Roosevelt’s elec- 
tion and ended with VJ-Day. Sample rising-adult leaders: John Kennedy, 
Robert Oppenheimer, Walt Disney. 



FIGURE 5-3 

Crisis Constellations 




SECULAR 

CRISES 


PHASE 

GLORIOUS 

AMERICAN 

CIVIL 

GREAT DEPRESSION 

OF LIFE 

REVOLUTION 

REVOLUTION 

WAR 

WORLD WAR II 


(1675-1692) 

(1773-1789) 

(1857-1865) 

(1932-1945) 

ELDER: 

PURITAN 

AWAKENING 

COMPROMISE 

MISSIONARY 


(Idealist) 

(Idealist) 

(Adaptive) 

(Idealist) 


Simon Bradstreet 

Samuel Adams 

James Buchanan 

Franklin Roosevelt 

MIDLIFE: 

CAVALIER 

LIBERTY 

TRANSCENDENTAL 

LOST 


(Reactive) 

(Reactive) 

(Idealist) 

(Reactive) 


Increase Mather 

George Washington 

Abraham Lincoln 

Dwight Eisenhower 

RISING: 

GLORIOUS 

REPUBLICAN 

GILDED 

G.I. 


(Civic) 

(Civic) 

(Reactive) 

(Civic) 


Cotton Mather 

Thomas Jefferson 

Ulysses Grant 

John Kennedy 

YOUTH: 

ENLIGHTENMENT 

COMPROMISE 

PROGRESSIVE 

SILENT 


(Adaptive) 

(Adaptive) 

(Adaptive) 

(Adaptive) 


Elisha Cooke, Jr. 

Dolley Madison 

Booker T. Washington 

Sandra Day O’Connor 

CYCLE: 

Colonial 

Revolutionary 

Civil War 

Great Power 


00 


THE CYCLE IN AMERICA 



90 


GENERATIONS 


In each of these periods of secular crisis, public institutions suddenly strength- 
ened — sometimes with the help of emergency powers — as people of all ages 
banded together and gave absolute priority to the protection and survival of their 
larger community. During and shortly after these periods, leaders reshaped public 
institutions beyond earlier recognition. History turned, decisively. 

Figure 5-3 identifies the generational constellations of each Crisis era, ex- 
cluding the precolonial Armada Crisis. 

The constellational pattern is unmistakable. In every secular crisis except the 
Civil War, America had old Idealists, midlife Reactives, rising-adult Civics, and 
child Adaptives. Picture the peer personalities of each generational type, at its 
respective phase of life: 


• Idealist elders providing principle and vision; 

• Reactive midlifers understanding how the real world functions, and leading 

accordingly; 

• Civic rising adults , smart and organized, doing their duty; and 

• Adaptive youths emulating adults and making relatively few demands. 

This is the optimal generational lineup for overcoming social emergencies, 
attacking unsolved problems, waging whatever war may be deemed necessary, 
and achieving a brighter future for the soon-to-be-bom (Idealist) children of the 
next cycle. Elders bring wisdom, midlifers savvy, rising adults cooperation, and 
children silence. The resolute order-givers are old, the dutiful order-takers young. 
This is a constellation of action, not reflection. People become pragmatic, 
community-oriented, and more risk-averse in public and private life. The dis- 
tinctions between sex roles widen, and the protection of children grows to max- 
imum intensity. The crisis leaves a heavy footprint on the remaining lifecycle 
of every generation then living — especially the Civic, who thereafter assume a 
hubris bom of triumph, a belief in community over self, and a collective con- 
fidence in their own achievements that their elders and juniors can never match. 

To propel the generational cycle in this manner, a secular crisis must end 
with triumph. This happened in every cycle but one: the Civil War. By no means 
does this anomaly contradict the cycle; instead, it offers important lessons about 
how generational history can turn out well — or badly. 


The Civil War Anomaly 

We have already observed that the Civil War Cycle lacks a Civic-type gen- 
eration. At sixty-four years, this cycle is fully seventeen years shorter than any 
other. A mere twenty-eight years separate the end of the Civil War Crisis from 



THE CYCLE IN AMERICA 


91 


the end of the preceding (Transcendental) awakening. What happened? 

First, the crisis came early. The initial year of the crisis came fifty-one years 
after the middle birth cohort of the Transcendental (Idealist) generation. The 
other crisis periods began seventy-six, sixty-two, and sixty-one years after the 
middle Idealist birthyear. This ten-to-fifteen-year difference (the equivalent, 
roundly, of half a phase of life) is quite significant. Consider the 1920s, when 
Franklin Roosevelt’s midlife Missionary Generation was still crusading for its 
great Prohibition “experiment” and the rising-adult Lost had yet to emerge from 
alienation and pleasure-seeking. Suppose a combination of depression and global 
fascism had hit then. Very likely, the national mood would have been more 
fragmented, public action less decisive. Likewise, imagine what form the Amer- 
ican Revolution might have taken had it occurred before the Stamp Act riots of 
1765 — and what sort of Constitution might have been written by midlife Awak- 
ener zealots or hard-luck Liberty young adults, rather than by confident and 
public-minded Republicans. In effect, these odd hypothetical point to what 
happened in the Civil War, when a still-zealous Transcendental generation con- 
gealed a crisis in midlife. Picture some facsimile of the Civil War waged fifteen 
years later — with Transcendentals more self-controlled as elder stewards, the 
Gilded less daring as midlife leaders, and Progressives more effective as rising- 
adult order-takers. The generational cycle suggests that the crisis would have 
been resolved with far less tragedy. 

Second, the three adult generations allowed their more dangerous peer in- 
stincts to prevail. Following the failed efforts of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, 
and John Calhoun to avert war, the elderly Compromisers of the Buchanan era 
were unable to rise above empty process and moral confusion. The Transcen- 
dental Generation split not just into two competing factions, but into two self- 
contained, mutually exclusive societies. Transcendental leaders — the likes of 
Abraham Lincoln, William Sherman, Thaddeus Stevens, Jefferson Davis, and 
Julia Ward Howe — were, as a generation, unable to resist waging war (and 
peace) with ruthless, apocalyptic finality. The younger Gilded never outgrew an 
adventurer’s lust for battle or an easily bruised sense of personal honor — never, 
that is, until the war was over. These three adult generations steered a very 
dangerous constellation, and together produced the nearest approximation of 
holocaust America has ever experienced. Place the Civil War Cycle alongside 
the generational calendar of its two neighboring cycles — Revolutionary and Great 
Power — and notice how the Civil War occurred roughly a decade before the 
Revolution and World War II, a decade after the French and Indian War and 
World War I. It combined the worst features of both: the colossal scale of the 
former two with the lasting bitterness of the latter two. 

Third , the crisis came to an untriumphant end. Was the Civil War a failure? 
We need not answer the question yes or no, but simply observe that for each of 
the other secular crises on our list, we find it difficult to imagine a more uplifting 
finale than that which actually occurred. For the Civil War, we can easily imagine 



92 


GENERATIONS 


a better outcome. Yes, the Union was preserved, the slaves emancipated, and 
the industrial revolution fully unleashed. But consider the enormous cost: deep- 
rooted sectional hatred, the impoverishment and political exile of the South, the 
collapse of Reconstruction into the era of lynchings and Jim Crow, and the long 
delay that postwar exhaustion later imposed on most other social agendas, every- 
thing from antitrust policy and labor grievances to temperance and women’s 
rights. 

The political reaction of those alive at the time, moreover, indicates that many 
Americans did indeed attribute the painful finale (at least in part) to calamitous 
miscommunication between young and old. The Civil War was followed by the 
largest generational landslide in American history, in 1868, when voters tossed 
out aging Transcendental zealots for the fortyish Gilded. Afterward, no rising 
generation emerged to fulfill the usual Civic role of building public institutions 
to realize the Transcendentals’ visions. Instead, the Gilded aged into a unique 
Reactive-Civic hybrid — and, in midlife, presided over a period of unusual cul- 
tural and spiritual staleness. Likewise, although the Progressives had been raised 
with a protective prewar nurture that prepared them to come of age as a Civic 
generation, they emerged from the Civil War scarred rather than ennobled. 
Acquiring little collective confidence as young adults, they left their future in 
the hands of the Gilded and developed a distinctly Adaptive peer personality. 

Spiritual Awakenings 

Having seen that America encounters a secular crisis roughly every ninety 
years, we now turn to the other kind of social moment that arrives roughly 
halfway in between: the spiritual awakening. Stepping ahead forty-two years 
from the Armada victory of 1588 brings us to 1630 — a year of peaking religious 
enthusiasm in England when John Winthrop and his fellow zealots set sail to 
found a New Jerusalem in America. Moving forty-five years past the colonial 
Glorious Revolution of 1689 takes us to 1734 — the year Jonathan Edwards 
touched off the Great Awakening in the Connecticut Valley. Similar intervals 
separate each of the remaining three secular crises from later episodes of wide- 
spread and tumultuous spiritual fervor. 

Over the past two decades, several social and religious historians have ex- 
plored the importance of these episodes. In his 1978 book Revivals , Awakenings , 
and Reform , William McLoughlin identifies five American “awakenings” 
roughly conforming to the intervals our cycle would suggest. McLoughlin defines 
awakenings as “periods of culture revitalization that begin in a general crisis of 
beliefs and values and extend over a period of a generation or so, during which 
time a profound reorientation in beliefs and values takes place.” Building from 
anthropologist Anthony Wallace’s theory of “revitalization movements,” 
McLoughlin describes how, in a modem society, a spiritual awakening can “alter 



THE CYCLE IN AMERICA 


93 


the world view of a whole people or culture.” Over the intervening span of six 
to eleven decades, “times change; the world changes; people change; and there- 
fore institutions, world views, and cultural systems must change.” He also notes 
that each awakening episode was, in its own time, an update of the “individ- 
ualistic, pietistic, perfectionist, millennarian ideology” which “has from time 
to time been variously defined and explained to meet changing experience and 
contingencies in our history.” 

Unlike an episode of secular crisis, when a real-world threat triggers disci- 
plined collective action and sudden institutional change, an awakening is driven 
by sudden value changes and a society-wide effort to recapture a feeling of 
spiritual authenticity. The focus is not on institutions, but on the spirit. And the 
moment is not essentially public or collective (though it may spark crowds, 
hysteria, and violence), but personal and individual. An awakening brings to 
rising-adult Idealists what Robert Bellah has called “a common set of moral 
understandings about good and bad, right and wrong, in the realm of individual 
and social action.” During the Reformation and Puritan Awakenings, these new 
“understandings” arose almost entirely in terms of religious dogma. Ever since, 
the focus has shifted by degrees toward the radical “isms” of the modem age. 
The underlying psychology of the awakening conversion, however, has remained 
much the same through subsequent centuries. 

Like a crisis, an awakening leaves a permanent impression on the remaining 
lifecycle of every generation then alive and shapes the rising-adult generation 
with special force. Whereas a crisis empowers the rising-adult generation, an 
awakening endows it with a spiritual or ideological mission that stays with its 
members for life. Among the vanguard of an awakening, we always notice 
isolated or ambivalent midlife Adaptives (Desiderius Erasmus, William Brews- 
ter, Thomas Foxcroft, William Ellery Channing, John Dewey, and Charles 
Reich) who are quite aware that the movement’s center of gravity is located in 
a younger generation. Yet the best-known leaders are typically first- wave Ide- 
alists, preaching to younger Idealists just coming of age — peer leaders like Martin 
Luther, John Winthrop, Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William 
Jennings Bryan, and Angela Davis. 

McLoughlin’s five American “awakenings” correspond closely to the five 
“spiritual awakenings” as we define them. Other historians have located and 
named eras of historic spiritual upheaval at similar dates. Starting with the first 
surge of Reformation enthusiasm in the precolonial period, we list them as 
follows, naming each after the Idealist Generation whose coming-of-age youths 
were largely responsible for pushing it forward. 

• The Reformation Awakening (1517-1539) in Europe, universally known as the 
“Reformation” and no doubt the best known of all awakenings in western 
history. Sample rising-adult leaders: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John 
Knox. 



94 


GENERATIONS 


• The Puritan Awakening { 1621-1640) in England, Scotland, and America, often 

called the “Puritan Awakening,” also known as the era of “Puritan En- 
thusiasm” or “Revolutionary Puritanism. ” Sample rising-adult leaders who 
came to America: John Winthrop, John Cotton, Anne Hutchinson. 

• The Great Awakening (1734-1743) in the American colonies, known at the 

time as “the Great and General Awakening” and referred to ever since as 
the “Great Awakening.” Sample rising-adult leaders: Jonathan Edwards, 
George Whitefield, William Tennent. 

• The Transcendental Awakening (1822-1837) in the United States, a loosely 

dated period known to most historians (and McLoughlin) as the “Second 
Great Awakening,” also called the era of “Romantic Evangelicalism” and 
“Transcendental Idealism.” Sample rising-adult leaders: Ralph Waldo 
Emerson, Nat Turner, Charles Finney. 

• The Missionary Awakening ( 1 886- 1 903) in the United States, called the ‘ ‘Third 

Great Awakening” by McLoughlin and a few others, also known as the 
age of “Reform,” “Revivalism,” and “Labor Radicalism.” Sample rising- 
adult leaders: William Jennings Bryan, Jane Addams, W.E.B. DuBois. 

• The Boom Awakening (1967-1980) in the United States, called the “Fourth 

Great Awakening” by McLoughlin, at times termed the “new transcen- 
dentalism,” now generally referred to as the recent “Sixties,” “Counter- 
culture,” or (especially) “Consciousness Revolution.” Sample rising-adult 
leaders: Arlo Guthrie, Mark Rudd, Rap Brown. 

Figure 5-4 identifies the generational constellations of each Awakening era, 
excluding the precolonial Reformation Awakening. 

Once again, we see a repeating constellational pattern in all but the Great 
Power Cycle (which followed the Civic-less Civil War Cycle) — a pattern con- 
sisting of old Civics, midlife Adaptives, rising-adult Idealists, and young Re- 
actives. Picture the peer personalities of each generational type, at its respective 
phase of life: 

• Civic elders confidently running or overseeing institutions they once built 

around an earlier set of values; 

• Adaptive midlifers feeling pulled in competing directions by more powerful 

generations on either side; 

• Idealist rising adults experiencing spiritual conversion near the coming-of-age 

moment and cultivating implacable moral conviction; and 

• Reactive youths too young to participate, left alone, urged to grow up quickly, 

and criticized as “bad.” 



FIGURE 5-4 

Awakening Constellations 


SPIRITUAL AWAKENINGS 



PURITAN 

GREAT 

TRANSCENDENTAL 

MISSIONARY 

BOOM 

PHASE 

AWAKENING 

AWAKENING 

AWAKENING 

AWAKENING 

AWAKENING 

OF LIFE 

(1621-1640) 

(1734-1743) 

(1822-1837) 

(1886-1903) 

(1967-1980) 

ELDER: 

Peers of 

GLORIOUS 

REPUBLICAN 

GILDED 

G.I. 


William Shakespeare 

(Civic) 

(Civic) 

(Reactive) 

(Civic) 



James Blair 

James Monroe 

John D. Rockefeller 

Richard Nixon 

MIDLIFE: 

Peers of 

ENLIGHTENMENT 

COMPROMISE 

PROGRESSIVE 

SILENT 


John Donne 

(Adaptive) 

(Adaptive) 

(Adaptive) 

(Adaptive) 



Cadwallader Colden 

William Ellery Channing 

Theodore Roosevelt 

Gloria Steinem 

RISING: 

PURITAN 

AWAKENING 

TRANSCENDENTAL 

MISSIONARY 

BOOM 


(Idealist) 

(Idealist) 

(Idealist) 

(Idealist) 

(Idealist) 


John Winthrop 

Jonathan Edwards 

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

William Jennings Bryan 

Jim Morrison 

YOUTH: 

CAVALIER 

LIBERTY 

GILDED 

LOST 

THIRTEENTH 


(Reactive) 

(Reactive) 

(Reactive) 

(Reactive) 

(Reactive) 


Increase Mather 

George Washington 

Louisa May Alcott 

Harry Truman 

Tom Cruise 

CYCLE: 

Colonial 

Revolutionary 

Civil War 

Great Power 

Millennial 


v O 


THE CYCLE IN AMERICA 



96 


GENERATIONS 


This lineup of elder doers and rising-adult thinkers — very different from the 
Crisis constellation — rarely does well at large public undertakings. The trained 
order-takers are old, while the instinctive order-givers are young. Any collective 
effort (such as a major war) faces strong social obstacles. On the other hand, 
this constellation can generate great spiritual energy and unusual creativity in 
religion, letters, and the arts. During each Awakening era, we witness mounting 
frustration with public institutions, fragmenting families and communities, rising 
alcohol and drug abuse, and a growing tendency to take risks in most spheres 
of life. Sex-role distinctions decline, and the protection accorded children reaches 
a low ebb. Afterward, maturing Idealists retain the inner convictions borne of 
their awakening experience and (after a period of political dormancy) attempt 
to project and enforce their principles on the world around them. Where post- 
crisis rising-adult Civics exude confident optimism and rationality as they move 
into midlife, post-awakening Idealists steer the national mood toward pessimistic 
and portentous spiritualism. 

To comprehend the generational cycle is to foresee where the cycle will turn 
as the future unfolds. It is to anticipate who the next “Gray Champion” will 
be — and when his next “hour of darkness, and adversity, and peril” will arrive. 
“Long, long may it be ere he comes again!” wrote Hawthorne. One purpose 
of this book is to help the reader foresee how long — and understand why. 



Chapter 6 


FROM PURITANS 
TO MILLENNIAL^ 
AND BEYOND 


T 

JL he year 1968 was not exactly the Year of the Baby. But amid the assassi- 
nations, riots, student strikes, Vietnam buildup, and rise of Richard Nixon, one 
of the highest-grossing movies of the year featured a baby: Rosemary's Baby. 
Watching Daddy sell a soon-to-be-bom child to a witch’s coven, many in the 
audience had to be thinking, “Please don’t have this baby, abort it!’’ Over the 
next ten years, child demons proliferated across American movie screens: The 
Exorcist , Exorcist II, Damien , Omen, Omen II, Omen III, It's Alive!, It Lives 
Again, Demon Seed. Even when the film children of the 1970s were not slashing 
and hexing parents, they were pictured as hucksters {Paper Moon), prostitutes 
( Taxi Driver ), molls and racketeers ( Bugsy Malone ), arsonists (Carrie), spoiled 
brats (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), or abandoned articles (Kramer 
vs. Kramer). Never in the age of cinema have producers and audiences obsessed 
over such a thoroughly distressing image of childhood. Compare this with the 
children featured in the Disney Shaggy Dog films of the 1950s: bright, well- 
meaning kids whom adults respected, kids any filmgoer knew would grow up 
to be interesting people. Or compare those 1970s-era child images with the 
cuddly-baby antidotes that began to appear in the mid-1980s — Raising Arizona , 
Three Men and a Baby, Baby Boom, and Parenthood — all featuring tots audi- 
ences felt like bundling in their arms and protecting. 

Who occupied the early-childhood age bracket when these films were being 
made and viewed? Boomers during the smart-kid movie era of the 1950s; 13ers 


c\n 



98 


GENERATIONS 


during the witch-kid movie era of the 1970s; and Millennial during the precious- 
baby movie era that began in the mid-1980s. This was no coincidence. The 13er 
childhood years, roughly from the mid-1960s through the early 1980s, defined 
an era of unremitting hostility toward children. One of every four rental apart- 
ments banned children, a 50 percent increase over the Boomer child era. The 
homicide rate against children under age four more than doubled. Adults of 
fertile age doubled their rate of surgical sterilization. The number of legal abor- 
tions per year rose tenfold. Birth-control technology became a hot topic — as did 
the cost and bother of raising a child, seldom an issue when Boomers were 
small. Net tax rates for childless households remained steady, while rates for 
families with children rose sharply. The child poverty rate grew, while the poverty 
rate for those in midlife and elderhood fell. Tax revolts cut school funding 
substantially in California and other states, which made public-school teachers 
suffer seven consecutive years of reduced purchasing power. The proportion of 
G-rated films fell from 41 to 13 percent, and Walt Disney Studios laid off 
cartoonists. The nation financed a growing share of its consumption by piling 
up federal debt and other unfunded liabilities whose greatest burdens, adults 
realized, would someday fall on small children. Then, during the 1980s, many 
of these trends began stabilizing — and, in some cases, turning around. 

The English language has no single word to describe what happened to the 
child’s world in America through the Consciousness Revolution of the late 1960s 
and 1970s. The Germans do. They call it Kinderfeindlichkeit — a society- wide 
hostility toward children. 

Has Kinderfeindlichkeit ever happened before in America? Yes, several 
times — though not in precisely the same ways, of course. These other “bad- 
child” eras came before movies, birth-control pills, and weekly U.S. Treasury 
auctions. But earlier generations of adults had ample ways of declaring a child 
generation unwanted. In the 1640s, Cavalier children were routinely “kid- 
napped” off the streets of London and sold in the Chesapeake colonies as quasi- 
slaves. In the late 1730s, most American colonists left Liberty kids to their own 
“wildness” and generally agreed with Jonathan Edwards that they were “infi- 
nitely worse than young vipers.” During the Age of Jackson, Gilded youth were 
commonly regarded as self-seeking and savage, and were packed off to America’s 
first “reform schools.” In circa- 1900 America, Lost children struggled to make 
their own way as streethawking vagabonds while elders expressed horror over 
their “juvenile delinquency.” All these were , like the 13th , Reactive generations. 
In each case, adults considered the children who came before (Idealists) smarter 
and more worthy of freedom, and those who came after (Civics) better-behaved 
and more worthy of protection. 

Over the past four centuries, Reactive generations have always been children 
at the worst possible times. Why? They have had the bad luck to be bom during 
Awakening eras, years of young-adult rapture, self-immersion, and attacks on 
elder-built culture. Home and hearth are assaulted, not exalted. The generational 



FROM PURITANS TO MILLENNIAL^ AND BEYOND 


99 


constellations of these Awakening eras feature angry two-way dramas between 
Civic elders and Idealist rising adults, with Adaptives mediating between them. 
None of these older generations offers much comfort to society’s Reactive new- 
comers. 

Conversely, during the Crisis eras at the other end of the cycle, the constel- 
lation produces the opposite form of nurture: the suffocating overprotection of 
Adaptive children. Older generations exalt family and community over self, 
sternly guard the home, and deny children independence or adventure coming 
of age. The most recent such era occurred during the war years of the 1940s, 
when the last-wave Silent were kids. Back in the 1690s, 1780s, and 1860s, three 
earlier generations of Adaptive children were told to behave, be quiet, and be 
thankful to their elders for sacrifices made on their behalf. 

The two dominant generational types spend their childhood years midway 
between these extremes of underprotection and overprotection. Civics grow up 
during eras when adult control is increasing, Idealists when it is decreasing. 
Figure 6- 1 illustrates how, over time, childhood nurture oscillates with the rhythm 
of the generational cycle. The trends are not always as gradual as this sine wave 
might suggest. From time to time, abrupt shifts occur from one era to the next, 
often marking a generational division between one cohort-group and the next. 
As America moved into an Inner-Driven era in the early 1750s, for example, 
colonial towns suddenly moved to protect small Republican children from the 
violent, even deadly Halloween mischief practiced by Liberty kids in the 1740s. 

FIGURE 6-1 

Tendency in Child Nurture, 
by Generational Type and Constellational Era 

INNER- OUTER- 

TYPE OF AWAKENING DRIVEN CRISIS DRIVEN 

NURTURE ERA ERA ERA ERA 


Overprotection 


Underprotection 



CHILDHOOD 
ERA OF: 


REACTIVE CIVIC ADAPTIVE IDEALIST 



100 


GENERATIONS 


Around 1900, speeding wagons and streetcars were a leading cause of death 
among Lost city kids. Few adults tried to do much about it. But starting around 
1905, as America again entered an Inner- Driven era, angry urban crowds began 
threatening to lynch drivers who ran over child G.I.s — and reformers began 
pulling children off the dangerous streets and into households and supervised 
playgrounds. 

In Chapter 4, we described the pattern by which society’s second-elder (mid- 
life) parental generation sets the nurturing style for any given generation of 
youth. Since the passage from youth to midlife takes a generation through two 
phases of life (half a cycle), midlife generations tend to raise the current gen- 
eration of youth in a manner opposite to that in which they themselves were 
raised. Figure 6-2 clarifies this compensatory dynamic. Listing the two-apart 
parental and child generations in capital letters, we show how underprotected 
Reactives (say, the Lost) produce overprotected Adaptives (Silent), who then in 
turn raise underprotected Reactives (13ers). Civics (G.I.s), themselves raised 
under a tightening parental grip, relax the grip for Idealists (Boomers), who later 
retighten it around their own Civic (Millennial) children. Much the same pattern 
can be found in prior centuries — as, for example, in the tendency of Compro- 
misers, themselves suffocated as children, to widen parental boundaries with 
their own later-bom children, ultimately spawning the wild Gilded. 


FIGURE 6-2 

The Four Generational Types: 
Child Nurture Relationships 



IDEALIST 

REACTIVE 

CIVIC 

ADAPTIVE 

Phase of Life 
during Awakening: 

rising 

youth 

elder 

midlife 

Phase of Life 
during Crisis: 

elder 

midlife 

rising 

youth 

TYPE OF 
PARENTS: 

CIVIC 
& Adaptive 

ADAPTIVE 
& Idealist 

IDEALIST 
& Reactive 

REACTIVE 
& Civic 

TYPE OF 
CHILDREN: 

Reactive & 
CIVIC 

Civic & 
ADAPTIVE 

Adaptive & 
IDEALIST 

Idealist & 
REACTIVE 

How It Is 
Nurtured: 

relaxing 

under- 

protective 

tightening 

over- 

protective 

How It 
Nurtures: 

tightening 

over- 

protective 

relaxing 

under- 

protective 



FROM PURITANS TO MILLENNIAL^ AND BEYOND 


101 


It would be misleading to attribute this compensating pattern of nurturing 
styles to deliberate parental intent. Instead, the pattern reflects the entire peer 
personality of the midlife parental generation — as well as the shifting mood of 
the constellational era. Reactives may well have their own laissez-faire upbring- 
ing in mind when they try to overprotect their Adaptive young. But they are 
also influenced in midlife by their exhausted and risk-averse outlook toward life 
in general and by the high priority that Crisis-era society places upon protecting 
the family at all cost. Opposite motives govern Adaptive parents. In part, their 
nurturing style reflects intended compensation for memories of their own dark- 
closet childhood, but midlife Adaptives are also enmeshed in a quest for personal 
liberation and are constantly reminded (by other Awakening-era generations) 
that everyone needs more social autonomy — small children included. 

Childhood nurture plays a major role in shaping a generation’s peer person- 
ality. Even as children, peer groups begin to create attitudes and expectations 
(within themselves and among elders) that determine how they will later fulfill 
social roles. By tracing any set of children forward along the generational di- 
agonal, we can often observe how these attitudes and expectations later manifest 
themselves in adulthood. Recall the contrast between the castaway 10-year-olds 
of the 1740s and the precious 10-year-olds of the 1750s. Following these two 
groups forward to the 1780s, we can discern an equally stark contrast later on: 
between an independent and sometimes cynical or untrustworthy cadre of fiftyish 
Liberty leaders (from George Washington and John Adams to Ethan Allen and 
Benedict Arnold) and a cooperative, cheerful, and rational cadre of forty ish 
Republicans (from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to Benjamin Rush and 
John Jay). Likewise, put the 4-year-olds of 1900 and 1915 on fast forward until 
the late 1960s. Among eminent leaders in the first group, we find shrewd sev- 
entyish Lost curmudgeons like Everett Dirksen and Sam Ervin; among the sec- 
ond, we recognize confident mid-fifty ish G.I. optimists like Hubert Humphrey 
and Ronald Reagan. 

Childhood nurture alone does not stamp a generation for life. To define its 
peer personality and fix its cohort boundaries, a generation needs further contact 
with history, especially as it comes of age into rising adulthood. Other behavioral 
and attitudinal patterns — in youth and later phases of life — match the timing of 
our generational cycle. Like the different brands of child nurture received in 
youth and dispensed in midlife, these patterns all oscillate between extremes at 
opposite (two-apart) eras in the generational cycle. 

Youths of the two dominant types (Idealist and Civic), for example, reveal 
the widest contrast in their symbolic affinity to mothers versus fathers. Young 
Idealists typically show the strongest attachment to mothers and the most conflict 
with fathers. Scholars have long illustrated the dynamics of oedipal behavior by 
drawing most of their examples from notable Idealists — Martin Luther and Oliver 
Cromwell, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, even the “young radicals” 
studied by Kenneth Keniston and Lewis Feuer in the late 1960s. Again and 



102 


GENERATIONS 


again, from Puritans to Boomers, rising Idealists have given spiritual awakenings 
an anti-masculine flavor. Later in life, Idealist leaders commonly ascribe greater 
influence to their mothers. By contrast, the sharpest attacks on elder mother 
figures have come from rising Civics — from the anti-witch diatribes of James I 
and Cotton Mather to Philip Wylie’s tirade against “momism” and “she- 
popery.” Later in life, Civic leaders typically ascribe greater influence to their 
fathers. 

Moving beyond youth, we see other striking patterns coincident with the 
generational cycle. For each of them we could draw a sine curve like the wave 
in Figure 6-1. For example: 

• COMING OF AGE, Idealists are the most attracted to spiritual self-discovery 

and the least attracted to teamwork; Civics, the reverse. Reactives display 
the strongest desire for early independence and adventure; Adaptives, the 
weakest. 

• In RISING ADULTHOOD, Idealists narrow the distinction between acceptable 

sex roles; Civics widen them. Reactives are the most risk-prone; Adaptives, 
the most risk-averse. 

• In MIDLIFE, Idealists feel a growing pessimism about worldly affairs; Civics 

a growing optimism. Reactives tire from earlier bingeing and slow down; 
Adaptives break free from earlier conformity and speed up. 

• In ELDERHOOD, Idealists are preoccupied with moral principle; Civics with 

secular achievement. Reactives typically live least comfortably relative to 
younger generations; Adaptives, most comfortably. 

We spell out these phase-of-life oscillations in greater detail in Chapter 12, 
where we connect them with constellational eras and moods. Our point here is 
simply to demonstrate the breadth of life experience encompassed by the gen- 
erational cycle. It is not just about the “history” of elections and wars. The 
cycle has at least as much to do with children and parents as it does with Presidents 
and generals. 


Cycle Theories of American History 

We are by no means the first to observe cycles in American history. Over 
the years, many scholars have been struck by the recurrent timing of certain 
kinds of trends or events. A few have explicitly connected these cycles with the 
concept of generational change; most have at least remarked that they coincide 
with a generational rhythm. Perhaps the two best-known modem American cycle 
theories are those advanced by Frank Klingberg and by the two Arthur Schles- 
ingers, father and son. Both the Klingberg and the Schlesinger theories describe 



FROM PURITANS TO MILLENNIAL^ AND BEYOND 


103 


a two-stroke pendular movement between periods of activity and calm in public 
life. 

In 1951, Klingberg suggested that American foreign policy since 1776 has 
alternated between “extroversion” (interventionism) and “introversion” (iso- 
lationism). Each period, he observes, lasts about twenty-three years — which 
makes the timing of his foreign policy cycle closely match the timing of our 
own cycle of generations and social moments. But where his two-part cycle 
registers two oscillations, our four-part cycle registers only one. For example, 
Klingberg takes the period of American interventionism extending from the 
Spanish-American War (1898) through World War I (1918) and equates it with 
the interventionism of the 1940-1965 “Pax Americana.” Because Klingberg 
sees both spiritual awakenings and secular crises as periods of activity, his cycle 
does not differentiate between them. We, on the other hand, interpret these two 
periods in terms of very different generational constellations. The first, beginning 
at the end of an Awakening era, was a moralistic crusade urged by rising-adult 
Idealists and managed by equivocating Adaptives. The second, beginning at the 
end of a Crisis era, was an institutional framework for peace and prosperity 
urged by rising-adult Civics and managed by pragmatic Reactives. The purpose 
of interventionism, the nature of national leadership, and indeed the entire public 
mood differed substantially on each occasion. 

The Schlesinger cycle is much like Klingberg ’s. In Paths to the Present , 
published in 1949, the elder Schlesinger suggested that American history follows 
a pendular movement between two public or political moods, later defined by 
Arthur, Jr., as a period of “public activity” and a period of “private interest” 
(or “conservative retrenchment”). Each period lasts about sixteen years, on 
average (with wide variations before 1900). In certain respects, the Schlesinger 
cycle has successfully predicted how popular attitudes toward government did 
in fact twist and turn over the postwar era: the mid- 1940s surge toward con- 
servatism, the late- 1950s tilt toward liberalism, and the reemergence of Reagan- 
style conservatism in the mid-1970s. More recently, however, their cycle has 
stumbled. In the spring of 1988, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., published an article 
entitled “Wake Up, Liberals, Your Time Has Come,” predicting a resurgence 
of sixties-style liberalism over the next few years. To date, Schlesinger’s pre- 
diction seems wide of the mark. One problem, in our view, is that a sixteen- 
year pendulum is too exact — and (unlike Klingberg ’s twenty-three-year 
pendulum) speeds the clock too fast. 

A more basic limitation of the Schlesingers’ approach is that, like Klingberg’s, 
it focuses on a bipolar index of the national mood: the presence or absence of 
public activism. But what kind of activism? According to Arthur Schlesinger, 
Jr. , the New Deal and the Great Society initiated two equivalent eras of hope 
and energy. According to our four-part generational cycle, we see two constel- 
lational eras that were in many ways the opposite of each other. The New Deal 
era invited outer- fixated rising adults (Civic G.I.s) to propel America to build a 



104 


GENERATIONS 


better world. That is just what they did — obediently and with great collective 
enthusiasm. The Great Society era, by contrast, invited inner-fixated rising adults 
(Idealist Boomers) to move the nation toward introspection and spiritual rebirth — 
certainly not toward building anything or obeying anybody. Consider what hap- 
pened to the names themselves. “New Deal” became a symbol of elder vision 
and youthful achievement that G.I.s later spoke of with pride. “Great Society” 
became a symbol of elder hubris and youthful revolt that Boomers today recall 
with irony or even ridicule. After the fact, 25-year-old Boomers never came 
away from LBJ’s “guns and butter” with anything like the community-spirited 
energy that 25-year-old G.I.s brought away from FDR’s fireside chats. These 
are fundamental differences, the kind that cast a long shadow on history. 

In The Cycles of American History , published in 1986, Arthur Schles- 
inger, Jr., agrees that “it is the generational experience that serves as the main- 
spring of the political cycle.” But the formative experiences of politically active 
Americans around 1965 in no way resemble those when Roosevelt was first 
elected in 1932. Nor do the constellations during the two most recent conservative 
periods identified by Schlesinger. The first (the late 1940s and 1950s) was a time 
of conformist immersion in community, the second (the late 1970s and 1980s) 
of nonconformist immersion in self. If generations are indeed the “mainspring” 
for his cycle, Schlesinger is saying, in effect, that the rising generation of the 
1980s (the Boomer “yuppies”) were the political and social equivalent of Schles- 
inger’ s own generation of postwar G.I. heroes. Two more dissimilar sets of 
rising adults can scarcely be imagined. 

The logical problem faced by two-stroke cycles, whether thirty-two or forty- 
six years in length, is that they imply that generations two apart will engage in 
very similar public behavior. That defies human nature. You can look through 
all of American history for an example of matching midlife-youth peer person- 
alities, but you will not find any. This certainly did not happen between Mis- 
sionaries and G.I.s, or between G.I.s and Boomers. Nor between the Lost and 
the Silent, or the Silent and the 13ers. Klingberg and the Schlesingers limit 
themselves to a two-stroke cycle (of dominant and recessive generations) perhaps 
because they focus exclusively on what are known as “political generations.” 
Like Thomas Jefferson and so many others who have examined cycles and 
generations, they do not incorporate the entire lifespan into their theories. 

There is nothing unprecedented about a historical cycle based, like our own, 
on the total lifecycle experience of cohort-group generations. As we explain in 
Appendix A, many have been there before us — with origins of our theory dating 
as far back as Homer and Ibn Khaldun. Over the last two centuries, eminent 
social philosophers from Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill to Jose Ortega y 
Gasset and Karl Mannheim have endorsed a generational perspective on history 
that transcends politics alone. Nor are we the first to postulate a cycle revolving 
around four generational types. Two nineteenth-century writers, Emile Littre 



FROM PURITANS TO MILLENNIALS AND BEYOND 


105 


and Giuseppe Ferrari, identified such a cycle in modem European history. In 
the twentieth century, a Spanish sociologist and an American historian, Julian 
Marias and Samuel Huntington, have also identified elements of a four-part 
cycle. 

Huntington’s theory, designed specifically to explain the American experi- 
ence, is an especially important antecedent to our own. What he calls his “Ivl” 
(“Institutions versus Ideals”) cycle lines up social moments exactly as we do — 
between eras of “creedal passion” in which new ideals emerge and periods of 
secular action in which ideals are institutionalized in public life. Within this 
sixty-to-ninety-year cycle, Huntington sees a sequence of “idealistic,” “cyni- 
cal,” “complacent,” and “hypocritical” attitudes — social moods that roughly 
describe our four constellational eras and reflect the coming-of-age personalities 
of our four generational types. 

While these four writers reach what we consider to be essentially correct 
definitions of the cycle, none (including Huntington) has much to say about why 
it occurs, beyond general references to the rejuvenative nature of social change. 
Like Klingberg and the Schlesingers, they limit their discussion to political 
generations and focus on just two generations at a time (those occupying what 
we term the rising adulthood and midlife phases of life). They give little or no 
attention to the importance of a generation’s nurturing and coming-of-age ex- 
periences, or to its behavior in old age. Accordingly, these writers have succeeded 
more in describing what the cycle is than in explaining its connection with the 
larger currents of social history. 


The Predictive Record of the Generational Cycle 

According to an ancient Chinese legend, two astronomers named Hi and Ho 
once failed to predict an eclipse of the sun — and were thereupon beheaded by 
the emperor. In 1989, the California earthquake caught Joan Quigley, Nancy 
Reagan’s astrologer, completely by surprise in her San Francisco apartment — 
an oversight for which she was pummeled by sarcastic columnists. Fair enough. 
The acid test of any theory is its ability to forecast. 

Unlike other cycle theorists, we make no claim that our generational cycle 
can predict which party will win what election, or whether a stock crash or war 
will occur in this or that year. Cycles that aim at such accuracy never work over 
time. Sooner or later, they don’t even come close, because the historical observer 
who obsesses over accuracy typically refuses to examine the underlying (though 
imprecise) dynamics of social causation. The person who tries to predict when 
each ocean wave will break on the shore gets nowhere, but the person who 
thinks about high and low tides — well, he just might come up with a theory of 
considerable predictive power. We liken our theory more to the tide analogy. 



o 

ON 


FIGURE 6-3 

The Timing of Social Moments and Cohorts 

FIRST 

REACTIVE SPIRITUAL 
CYCLE COHORT AWAKENING 


FIRST 

CIVIC 

COHORT 


FIRST 

ADAPTIVE 

COHORT 


SECULAR 

CRISIS 


FIRST 

IDEALIST 

COHORT 


Colonial 

1615 

1621-1640 

Revolutionary 

1724 

1734-1743 

Civil War 

1822 

1822-1837 

Great Power 

1883 

1886-1903 

Millennial 

1961 

1967-1980 




1580-1588 

1584 

1648 

1674 

1675-1692 

1701 

1742 

1767 

1773-1789 

1792 

(no Civic) 

1843 

1857-1865 

1860 

1901 

1982 

1925 

1932-1945 

1943 


GENERATIONS 



FROM PURITANS TO MILLENNIAL^ AND BEYOND 


107 


That is why we phrase our conclusions about the past (and visions of the future) 
not in terms of specific years, but in terms of constellational eras and generational 
phases of life. 

Although we resist calibrating our conclusions to the exact year, our cycle 
does reveal a four-century record of strikingly consistent timing. In Figure 6-3, 
we show that every social moment has begun shortly after the first birthyear of 
a recessive-type generation — that is, shortly after the beginning of the matching 
(awakening or crisis) constellational era. We also show that every social moment 
has ended near the first birthyear of a dominant-type generation. 

Each of the nine social moments has started between 0 and 14 years after the 
first recessive (Reactive or Adaptive) birth. On average, they have started 
6 years afterward, with an average margin of error of 3.0 years. At the other 
end, each social moment has ended between 9 years before and 5 years after 
the first dominant (Idealist or Civic) birth. On average, they have ended 1 year 
afterward, with an average margin of error of 4.1 years. This is remarkable 
timing, considering that each type of social moment (and the first birthyear of 
each generational type) occurs only once every 89 years. 

Just as the timing of social moments is linked with the arrival of the first 
recessive birth cohort, so too is it linked with the aging of the dominant gen- 
erations that propel and preside over them. Plotting the midpoint of Idealist and 
Civic generation birthyears against the arrival of social moments, Figure 6-4 
reveals another consistent pattern. 

Here we see the two-stroke dynamic underlying the rhythms Klingberg and 
the Schlesingers have seen in American history. Both types of dominant gen- 
erations occupy roughly the same lifecycle stage when social moments begin. 
One is partway into rising adulthood, still straddling its coming-of-age “rite of 
passage. ” The other is partway into elderhood, still exercising its final leadership 
role before the ebb of old age. On average, social moments begin 18 years (and 
end 33 years) after the mid-cohort births of the younger dominant generation, 
with an average margin of error of 2.8 years. They begin 64 years (and end 
77 years) after the mid-cohort births of the elder dominant generation, with an 
average margin of error of 7.7 years. As we would expect, the two types of 
dominant generations (Idealist and Civic) have exactly opposite phase-of-life 
relationships with the two types of social moments. 

We can foresee future historians someday filling in the Millennial Cycle blanks 
in Figure 6-4 with numbers roughly comparable to those above it. Such proph- 
ecies are an important part of the message of this book. Again, projecting the 
future range of such numbers does not allow us to predict social moments with 
to-the-year accuracy. Since generational boundaries remain imprecise while a 
cohort-group is still young (especially when a social moment has yet to shape 
its peer personality), we cannot make calculations about the future as precisely 
as about the past. Still, the generational cycle shows a powerful recurring 
rhythm — and, with it, a powerful two-way relationship with history. 



108 


GENERATIONS 


FIGURE 6-4 

Age of Dominant Generations 
at Start of Social Moments 


Mid-Idealist Mid-Idealist 

Births to Mid-Civic Births Mid-Civic Births to 


CYCLE: 

Awakening 

to Awakening* 

Births to Crisis 

Crisis 

Colonial 

22 years 

74 years 

15 years 

76 years 

Revolutionary 

22 years 

68 years 

19 years 

62 years 

Civil War 

16 years 

{no Civic) 

{no Civic) 

51 years 

Great Power 
Millennial 

15 years 

16 years 

55 years 

20 years 

61 years 

Average 

18 years 

65 years 

18 years 

66 years** 


*Awakening of the next cycle 
**Not including the Civil War Cycle 


Looking for Analogues 

Analogues are familiar to anyone who has ever talked about generations. We 
recall that the rise of John Kennedy in the early 1960s was heralded, by his 
admirers, as the dawn of a new “Augustan Age.” In the late 1960s, college- 
age Utopians were sometimes labeled “New Transcendentals” — and nowadays, 
values-obsessed 40-year-olds are often called “New Puritans.” We hear some 
of today’s fiftyish liberals labeling themselves “Progressives.” Thirteeners are 
sometimes described as a “Lost” (or “New Lost”) generation. Eras have an- 
alogues as well. Some of the most common decade pairings coincide with our 
matching constellations — the 1960s with the 1890s or 1830s, to mention one 
example. 

Searching for analogues — recognizing which ones apply and understanding 
why — is precisely what makes history enjoyable and important. Its reader often 
wants to ask: How does that character or situation compare to any that / have 



FROM PURITANS TO MILLENNIAL^ AND BEYOND 


109 


come across? Over the next five chapters, where we present capsule biographies 
for America’s eighteen generations, we expect the reader will want to ask such 
questions and to ponder how these collective life stories compare with his or 
her own life story and the life story of older or younger acquaintances. We urge 
our reader, when immersed in an ancestral generation, to recall its modem 
analogue (Puritan-Boomer or Lost- 13th, for example) and, when reading about 
a modem generation, to reflect on its ancestral analogues. 

Part II is organized by generational cycle, one chapter per cycle. We begin 
each chapter by showing how the social moments of a given cycle helped define 
the generational drama. We illustrate the age location of each generation with 
a diagram of “diagonals,” whose geometry brings to mind how French soci- 
ologist Frangois Mentre once likened generations to “tiles on a roof.” These 
diagrams remind us that generational history is essentially three-dimensional — 
and that a chronological date is not a point, but rather a line that intersects 
evolving peer personalities at different phases of life. A single event in time, 
writes historian Wilhelm Pinder, is like “a depth sounding that we drop vertically 
through life developments” — a sounding that registers vast differences between 
how the world appears at a “depth” of age 10, 30, 50, or 70. 

Within each chapter, we offer capsule biographies of the generations them- 
selves. In describing lifecycles, we give equal weight to each phase of life (plus 
the critical coming-of-age experience between youth and rising adulthood). These 
biographies are suggestive sketches, not histories. We offer them to clarify the 
cohort boundaries, peer personality, age location, and lifecycle trajectory of each 
generation. 

After traversing eighteen generations, we shall return in Part III to the patterns 
of the cycle. By then, we expect, the reader will have gained a deeper, more 
intuitive feel for what it means to belong to an “Adaptive” or “Idealist” gen- 
eration or to live in an “Outer- Driven” or “Crisis” era. In Chapter 12, we 
construct analogues — for constellational moods, generational types, and endow- 
ment behavior. Finally, in Chapter 13, we project these analogues into the future. 
We explain what four centuries of generational history have to say about how 
the national mood will evolve in the decades to come, how each of today’s living 
generations will mature through later phases of life, and what kinds of endow- 
ments each can be expected to leave for its heirs. 

To stimulate thinking about analogues, we sort generations by type in Fig- 
ure 6-5. 

These analogues identify historical examples of generational types that match 
those alive today. They can help us answer questions like the following: 

• What do the legacies of the Glorious and Republicans tell G.I.s about how 
they will ultimately be remembered — and tell all of us about what sense of 
community today’s Millennial infants are likely to feel upon coming of age? 



110 


GENERATIONS 


FIGURE 6—5 

Generations, By Type 


CYCLE 

IDEALIST 

REACTIVE 

CIVIC 

ADAPTIVE 

Colonial 

Puritan 

Cavalier 

Glorious 

Enlightenment 

Revolutionary 

Awakening 

Liberty 

Republican 

Compromise 

Civil War 

Transcendental 

Gilded 

— 

Progressive 

Great Power 

Missionary 

Lost 

G.I. 

Silent 

Millennial 

Boom 

Thirteenth 

Millennial 



• What do the old-age experiences of Enlighteners, Compromisers, and Pro- 

gressives tell the Silent about the sense of connection with history they will 
feel at the end of their lives? 

• What do the completed lifecycles of Puritans, Awakeners, Transcendentals, 

and Missionaries tell “draft-dodging” Boomers about whether (and why) 
they may someday send younger generations into battle? 

• What do the stories of America’s “bad child” Reactive generations — Cava- 

liers, Liberty, Gilded, and Lost — tell 13ers about what they can expect 
from a mistimed lifecycle? 

• How does the endowment behavior of other Awakening eras compare with the 

narcissism associated with the recent Boom Awakening? 

• What can the constellational moods of other Inner-Driven eras tell us about 

whether the consensus vision of the future will brighten or darken as America 
approaches the year 2000? 

Historian Anthony Esler has commented how “the generational approach may, 
in fact, provide one of the royal roads to total history.” Take a look at the table 
on page 428. In it, you will find a complete road map of the journey we are about 
to take — a journey through American history along the generational diagonal, 
from Puritans to Millennial and beyond. 




Part II 


The 

Generations 




Chapter 7 


THE COLONIAL 
CYCLE 


'W M 


vv hat a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in 
faculties! In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like 
an angel! In apprehension, how like a god!” So wrote William Shakespeare, 
whose creative life — from his first child in 1583 to his death in 1616 — almost 


perfectly matches the birthyears of the Puritans, the first generation of Americans. 
Along with Shakespeare, such titanic peers as Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh, 
Robert Cecil, Philip Sydney, and Christopher Marlowe represented the pantheon 
of midlife Elizabethans who raised the Puritans as children. They celebrated 
order, rationality, optimism, and expansion. As young soldiers, the fathers had 
triumphed over the most monstrous empire on earth, the Spanish Hapsburgs. In 
trade, they had transformed England into a global entrepot of commerce. And 
in culture, they had brought the glory of the Renaissance north to their “Sceptred 
Isle.” 


The world of their fathers was not the only generational layer the young 
Puritans inherited. Most of these children could also look up at the less stolid, 
more picaresque world of their grandparents — peers of daring seadogs like Fran- 
cis Drake and John Hawkins, and of the wily Queen Elizabeth and her master 
sleuth, Francis Walsingham. In the children’s eyes, their Shakespearean fathers 
may have lost something by comparison. Looking farther up, many Puritans 
recognized great-grandparents who had come of age alongside Martin Luther 
and John Calvin and who had been burned at the stake as Protestant heretics. 


113 



114 


GENERATIONS 


Young Puritans heard these stories by word of mouth or read them in the gruesome 
Book of Martyrs by John Foxe, a best-seller for children in the early seventeenth 
century. Here we can be certain that the fathers suffered by comparison. Consider 
how the Puritans saw their fathers: worldly burghers and optimistic clerics, sliding 
comfortably into their fifties along with their witch-hating midlife peer King 
James I. Then consider how they might idealize their earlier ancestors: hundreds 
of world-rejecting prophets, piously refusing to recant as the smoke wafted up 
into their eyes. As they matured, the Puritans were fated to live a lifecycle having 
far more in common with such ancestors than with their own parents. 

The style of nurture which produced the Puritans and the mood of the world 
in which they came of age were substantially determined by the generational 
constellation into which they were bom. That constellation, in turn, was shaped 
by the social moments that occurred during the lifecycles of the Puritans’ parents, 
grandparents, and great-grandparents. The first (a spiritual awakening) was the 
initial floodtide of Reformation enthusiasm in Europe; the second (a secular 
crisis) was a dramatic and epochal shift in the European balance of power, 
hinging on the English sea victory over the Hapsburg Armada. 

Participating in these events were individuals who, taken collectively, reflect 
the four peer personalities of a precolonial “Reformation Cycle” of generations. 


Preparing for the Puritans: The Reformation Cycle 

The Reformation Cycle was triggered by an Idealist-like cast of rising adults, 
what many historians call “the Reformation generation.” Nearly all of them 
were bom between 1483 and 1509 — including Martin Luther, John Calvin, 
Ulrich Zwingli, Ignatius Loyola, John Rogers, Nicholas Ridley, Thomas Cran- 
mer, and John Knox. Next came the Reactive-like generation of Drake and 
Queens Elizabeth and Mary, bom between 1510 and 1541, whose late wave 
reached midlife during the Armada Crisis. That historic struggle arrived just as 
Shakespeare’s generation — confident, Civic-like youths bom between 1542 and 
1565 — were coming of age. Describing the contrast between these second 
and third English peer groups, historian Anthony Esler calls the peers of Drake 
and Elizabeth “a bumed-out generation” of risk-takers who “grew up in an age 
of ideological ferment” and later aged into “cool, cautious, and politique eld- 
ers.” By contrast, the younger peers of Shakespeare and Raleigh were “bom 
at a uniquely favorable time,” undertook “ambitious projects of breath-taking 
scope and grandeur,” and ultimately aged into a “generation of overreachers.” 
Esler has named them the “Generation of 1560” — which, in turn, was followed 
by a fourth, Adaptive-like generation bom between 1566 and 1583 — the anxious, 
sentimental (and upwardly mobile) peers of John Donne, Ben Jonson, and Sir 
John Davies. 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


115 


Aligned with these four very different generations were two social moments 

representing the most significant turning points of English history during the 

sixteenth century: 

• The Reformation Awakening (1517-1539), often regarded as the final curtain 

on the European Middle Ages, began in 1517 when Martin Luther tacked 
on the church door at Wittenberg his famous protest against Papal doctrine. 
Thus began two decades of religious and social upheaval — peasant upris- 
ings, fanatical Anabaptist heresies, the sack of Rome, and the Protestant 
conversion of many German and Scandinavian princes. The uproar cul- 
minated with the anarchist Munster Rebellion of 1535 and John Calvin’s 
arrival in Geneva the next year (after feeling what he called a “sudden 
conversion” at age 24). In England, the enthusiasm peaked at about the 
same time. King Henry VIII broke with the Papacy in 1534, and a “Ref- 
ormation Parliament” confiscated vast Catholic estates through the late 
1530s. The fervor ebbed after 1539, though dynastic wars and unrest con- 
tinued throughout Europe. Many rising-adult leaders of the English Ref- 
ormation, after maturing into midlife as dour and uncompromising prophets, 
were later executed by Henry VIII in the 1540s and by Queen Mary in the 
1550s. 

• The Armada Crisis (1580-1588) marked the climax of a long rivalry between 

the Spanish Hapsburg emperor Philip II and the Protestant queen of England 
Elizabeth. The crisis began in 1580, with England’s alliance with the Neth- 
erlands, Philip’s acquisition of Portugal, and Drake’s return from a daring 
three-year voyage around the world — in a ship loaded with pirated Spanish 
treasure. In 1588, led by the fiftyish Drake and Hawkins, the English fleet 
destroyed Philip’s invasion “Armada” and thereby established England as 
a growing naval and colonial power. During the following era of security 
and optimism, those who had celebrated heroic victory as coming-of-age 
soldiers — the younger courtiers, poets, merchants, scientists, and explorers 
serving their elder queen — ushered in the Elizabethan Renaissance, today 
remembered as the “Age of Shakespeare. ” By midlife, they set a prosperous 
stage for their “chosen” generation of disaffected children — some of whom 
would seek spiritual exile in the New World. 


The Puritan Awakening in England would begin eighty-seven years after the 
Reformation’s peak year of 1534 — and forty-one years after Queen Elizabeth 
decided to test Spain’s naval power in 1580. 



116 


GENERATIONS 


The Colonial Cycle 

Atop Gallows Hill near Salem, Massachusetts, on the morning of September 
22, 1692, eight middle-aged New Englanders, seven women and one man, stood 
on a scaffold with nooses around their necks. Their crime: witchcraft. Near the 
foot of the scaffold gathered a crowd of persons of all ages. They ranged from 
89-year-old Simon Bradstreet (the recent governor), to 61 -year-old William 
Stoughton (the presiding judge at the witch trials), to 29-year-old Cotton Mather 
(the brilliant and energetic clergyman), to the “possessed” children in their early 
teens whose jerking and shrieking reminded everyone why the witches had to 
die. No one in the crowd was surprised by the horrible spectacle. Over the prior 
decade, New Englanders had lived through revolution, anarchy, war, and pes- 
tilence — all signs that their chosen community had broken its sacred “Covenant 
with God.” Their ministers had warned them that witches would come next, 
and now the four generations of the COLONIAL CYCLE could witness the 
fulfillment of that prophecy. 

• For Bradstreet’s patriarchal PURITAN GENERATION (Idealist, then age 78 

and over), the scene on Gallows Hill represented God’s culminating judg- 
ment on His “Chosen Remnant” — and on the Puritans’ own life mission. 
Over a half century earlier, working alongside such “visible saints” as 
John Winthrop and John Cotton, Bradstreet and his peers had forsaken their 
Elizabethan fathers, left England, and founded a holy community of love 
and reform in the New World. More recently, their utopia had been punished 
for its wayward offspring. By purging the witches, the handful of Puritans 
still alive hoped that God would finally put an end to these tribulations — 
and raise up a younger generation to greatness and glory. So it happened. 
The hangings that day turned out to be the last judicial executions for 
witchcraft in America. By the end of the century, calm had returned to the 
colonies, and the ancient tail of the Puritan Generation passed on in peace. 
Simon Bradstreet died in 1697 — after residing in America for sixty-seven 
years, and after outliving his friend Winthrop by forty-eight years and his 
poetess wife Anne by twenty-five years. With him expired a legend. 

• Stoughton’s CAVALIER GENERATION (Reactive, age 45 to 77), having no 

such memories or hopes, watched with resignation. The witches about to 
die were their own age, as were the leading magistrates who condemned 
them. In their hearts, Cavaliers knew they all shared the guilt. Since child- 
hood, they had always been told they were a “lost generation,” that their 
spirit was “corrupt” and “unconverted.” Their only escape was the stick 



FIGURE 7-1 

Colonial Cycle: Age Location in History 


SECULAR SPIRITUAL SECULAR SPIRITUAL 

CRISIS AWAKENING CRISIS AWAKENING 





Armada 

Crisis 


Puritan 

Awakening 


Glorious 

Revolution 

Crisis 


Great 

Awakening 


THE COLONIAL CYCLE 



118 


GENERATIONS 


of silver, piece of land, or ship passage that could separate them from 
Puritan judgment. But when they were caught, this generation of traitors 
and rebels, predators and prey, rarely protested the punishment. More their 
style was the response of a Cavalier Virginian, William Drummond, when 
Puritan Governor William Berkeley informed him he would be hanged in 
half an hour: “What your honor pleases.” No excuses. No righteous denial. 
Cavalier leaders like Stoughton, Increase Mather, and Joseph Dudley — 
men of brutal realism — would later take America over the threshold of the 
next century and into a new era of caution and stability. Chastened and 
mellowed, most Cavaliers were about to enter old age unthanked, forgiving 
their juniors as they had never been forgiven by their own elders. 

• Cotton Mather’s GLORIOUS GENERATION (Civic, age 19 to 44) looked on 

with impassive approval — a few of them, like young Cotton himself, sci- 
entifically inspecting the witches for damning, last-minute evidence of 
“maleficium.” The Glorious were not suspected of sorcery and, unlike their 
next-elders, never imagined suspecting themselves. They had always lived 
up to the principles of their holy Puritan fathers, just as they had always 
shared their community’s doubts about the shifty Cavaliers. They looked 
upon the aging (and mostly female) witches as irrational threats to their 
future. The solution: Get rid of them. With the path thus cleared, many 
Glorious who witnessed the hangings could later excel in their generational 
mission to bring confidence, reason, and good works to the colonies. Over 
the next quarter century , Thomas Brattle would write on celestial mechanics 
while his brother William would help found a new church dedicated to a 
“reasonable” God; John Leverett, as president of Harvard, would encour- 
age the “most useful discoveries”; and Cotton Mather, pitiless witch-baiter 
in his youth, would help found Yale College and conquer “ignorant” 
prejudice by introducing the smallpox vaccine to America. 

• The young ENLIGHTENMENT GENERATION (Adaptive, age 18 and under), 

paralyzed by the pervasive dread, understood it was for their sake that the 
Cavalier witches had to die — just as so many other adults had recently died 
to protect them from the ravages of riot and war. Most of the “possessed” 
children would later lose any recollection of the witches who had victimized 
them. Remembered or not, the trauma shaped all these children. It was 
their destiny to come of age as colonial America’s most sensitive and 
conformist generation. Almost certainly, one or two of the young Enlight- 
eners present on Gallows Hill survived long enough to hear news of another 
epochal event in their extreme old age: the signing of the Declaration of 
Independence. The last witch hanging at Salem therefore became a unique 
generational focal point in American history, one of the very few moments 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


119 


when those who had raised John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” stood side 
by side those who would someday become citizens of James Madison’s 
“United States.’’ 


The New England witch trials completed seventeen years of social emergency 
that erupted just as the Colonial Cycle had turned roughly halfway through its 
course. When the cycle began in the 1620s with the founding of Plymouth and 
Salem and with the first sizable tobacco export from Jamestown, the New World 
remained an untouched wilderness. When the cycle came to an end in the early 
1730s, some 750,000 persons of European and African descent crowded the 
bays and river shores of the Atlantic seaboard. In slightly more than a century, 
the holy visions of the coming-of-age Puritans had been transformed into a 
prosperous, enterprising, and literate civilization, just then adding the last (Geor- 
gia) of its thirteen colonies. The Puritans conceived it; the Cavaliers sacrificed 
for it; the Glorious built it; and the Enlighteners improved it. America had become 
the proudest and fastest-growing member of the English empire — a peaceful and 
busy country, looking forward to a grand future. The colonists hardly imagined 
that their complacency was about to be shattered by Idealist youths of the next 
cycle. 

The Colonial Cycle contained two social moments: 

• The Puritan Awakening (1621-1640), a dramatic resurgence of radical Prot- 

estantism throughout Europe, triggered the Thirty Years War on the con- 
tinent and boiled over in England in 1621 when the House of Commons 
denounced the “unholy’’ war and tax policies of James I. The awakening 
gained popular momentum with the succession of Charles I to the throne 
in 1625 and reached a hysterical climax with demands for social, spiritual, 
and religious “Reform” in 1629. Charles tried suppressing these demands 
by refusing to convene any more Parliaments. The next year, John Winthrop 
led a “saving remnant” of true believers to America. In Old England, the 
rising-adult enthusiasm turned inward in the early 1630s, soon to explode 
again during Cromwell’s Puritan Revolution. In New England, the excite- 
ment did not subside until the end of the 1630s, when immigration stopped, 
families settled, and moral orthodoxy stiffened. AGE LOCATION: Puritans 
in rising adulthood; Cavaliers in youth. 

• The Glorious Revolution Crisis (1675-1692) followed an era of growing anx- 

iety about the future of colonial America. The crisis began in 1675 with 
King Philip’s War (a deadly struggle between New England settlers and 
musket-armed Algonquin Indians) and Bacon’s Rebellion (a brief civil war 
in Virginia). The mood of emergency peaked when England, led by King 
William of Holland, mounted the Glorious Revolution in the fall of 1688 
against its Catholic Stuart king, James II. Before learning the outcome, 



120 


GENERATIONS 


American colonists staged their own “Glorious Revolution” in the spring 
of 1689 by launching rebellions in New England, New York, Maryland, 
and the Carolinas. While still in the grip of political turmoil, the New 
England colonies staved off a determined French invasion from Canada. 
The crisis ended in 1692, the year of the Salem witch trials. The accession 
of William and Mary to the English throne put to rest the colonists’ greatest 
fears: social unrest, tyrannical governors, and annihilation by Indians. As 
the fever subsided, the colonies began celebrating their membership in an 
affluent and constitutional empire. AGE LOCATION : Puritans in elderhood; 
Cavaliers in midlife; Glorious in rising adulthood; Enlighteners in youth. 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


121 


PURITAN GENERATION 

Bom: 1584-1614 
Type: Idealist 

Age Location: 

Puritan Awakening in rising adulthood 
Glorious Revolution Crisis in elderhood 

“We shall be as a city upon a Hill,” 42-year-old John Winthrop told his 
assembled passengers aboard their flagship Arabella as it sailed for Massachusetts 
in 1630. “We must love brotherly without dissimulation; we must love each 
other with a pure heart fervently. . . . The end is to improve our lives to do more 
service to the Lord . . . that ourselves and posterity may be the better preserved 
from the common corruptions of this evil world.” Winthrop’ s message was 
a generational clarion call. A quarter century earlier, he had been a moody 
15-year-old at Cambridge University, trying his best to prepare for a squire’s 
life of comfort on his father’s English manor. He had not yet heard of John 
Endecott (age 14), Anne Hutchinson (age 12), Richard Mather (age 7), Oliver 
Cromwell (age 4), or Roger Williams and Simon Bradstreet (both in infancy). 
Young Winthrop would soon learn, through a soul-searing conversion experi- 
ence, how God’s grace was destined to push all of them to the forefront of 
history. Together, they would lead the PURITAN GENERATION, transatlantic 
vanguard of a European peer group that violently wrenched the West out of 
Renaissance complacency, founded a religious utopia in the New World, and 
comprised all but a handful of Europe’s first colonists on the Atlantic seaboard 
of North America. 

The Puritans belonged to an English-bom generation of boundless spiritual 
ambition. As children, they encountered a culture grown overlarge and lifeless 
in the hands of their Elizabethan fathers. Coming of age, they were (as many 
Puritans put it) “ravished by the beauty of the Lamb.” As rising adults, they 
experimented with novel lifestyles: odd combinations of education and piety, 
commerce and agitation, colony-founding and prophecy. Moving into midlife, 
they gravitated toward decisive action — laboring to reshape the world just as 
God had earlier reshaped their souls. Of the vast majority who never left England, 
many joined activists like Cromwell in launching the Puritan Revolution against 
King Charles I, or preachers like the Fifth Monarchists in advocating a dicta- 
torship of God on earth, or poets like John Milton in recreating a universe of 
chaos in which each soul struggles personally toward grace. 

But a few of these “Puritans,” led by Winthrop himself, chose to leave home 



PURITAN GENERATION (Bom 1584 to 1614) 


TYPE: Idealist 

Total number: 25,000 
Percent immigrant: 100% 
Percent slave: 1% 


SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

1584 John Cotton (1652)* 

1584 Myles Standish (1656)* 

1585 John Rolfe (1622)* 

1588 John Winthrop (1649)* 

1589 John Endecott (1665)* 

1590 William Bradford (1657)* 

1590 William Pynchon (1662)* 

1591 Anne Hutchinson (1643)* 

1592 Peter Stuyvesant (1672)* 
c. 1595 Pocahontas (1617) 

1596 Richard Mather (1669)* 

1597 John Davenport (1670)* 

1603 Roger Williams (1683)* 

1603 Simon Bradstreet (1697)* 

1604 John Eliot (1690)* 

1606 Sir William Berkeley (1677)* 

1606 John Winthrop, Jr. (1676)* 

1607 John Harvard (1638)* 

1609 Henry Dunster (1659)* 

c. 1612 Anne Bradstreet (1672)* 

* = immigrant 


FAMILY TREE 

Typical grandparents: bom c. 1540 
(e.g., Francis Drake) 

Parents: bom c. 1550-1585 
(e.g., William Shakespeare) 

Children: Cavalier and Glorious 
Typical grandchildren: Enlightenment 

PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

First and last year of colonial governorship 
and total duration of officeholding 
(permanent immigrants only): 

Massachusetts: 1629-1692, 53 years 
Connecticut: 1639-1683, 44 years 
Rhode Island: 1638-1686, 29 years 
Virginia: 1609-1677, 37 years 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1588 Thomas Hobbes (1679) 

1596 Rene Descartes (1650) 

1599 Oliver Cromwell (1658) 

1600 Charles I (1649) 

1608 John Milton (1674) 


Age 

Date 

0- 4 

1588 

0-19 

1603 

6-36 

1620 

8-38 

1622 

16-46 

1630 

24-54 

1638 

27-57 

1641 

29-59 

1643 

35-65 

1649 

46-76 

1660 

61-91 

1675 

75 + 

1689 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

England defeats Spanish Armada 

Death of Queen Elizabeth 

Pilgrim separatists land at Plymouth Rock 

First massacre of Jamestown by Indians 

“Great Migration” to New England begins 

Anne Hutchinson tried and banished for heresy 

“Great Migration” ends; Massachusetts separates from England 

John Davenport persuades Connecticut to adopt Mosaic law 

Charles I executed; rise of Oliver Cromwell in England 

Restoration of Charles II; colonial persecution of Quakers peaks 

Start of King Philip’s War and Bacon’s Rebellion 

Glorious Revolution in America 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: The Sincere Convert (Thomas Shepard); 
Bay Psalm Boot, The Bloody Tenent of Persecution (Roger Williams); The Sum of 
Church Discipline (Thomas Hooker); The Tenth Muse (Anne Bradstreet); Of Plymouth 
Plantation (William Bradford); An Exposition upon the Thirteenth Chapter of the 
Revelation (John Cotton); “Algonquin Bible” (John Eliot) 




THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


123 


and found a religious experiment they called New Jerusalem. Although a mere 
12,000 of Winthrop’s peers emigrated to Massachusetts during the 1630s, after 
just their first year they outnumbered all of the adult colonists who had yet settled 
in New England (including the tiny band of Mayflower pilgrims who had migrated 
ten years earlier). By the end of the decade, they outnumbered the combined 
adult population of all other English colonies in America, including the 33-year- 
old colony of Virginia. 

When this entire English-born generation reached midlife, the Puritans knew 
they had changed the course of history. But in the Old World, the changes were 
mixed. The stay-at-home Puritans never budged England from the corrupting 
influence of world affairs, and many of their hopes for revolution and reform 
were ultimately disappointed by the Restoration of the Stuart throne in 1660. 
Not so across the Atlantic. The New England Puritans stopped at nothing short 
of perfection. Rather than be corrupted by the world, they pushed themselves 
into spiteful isolation from outsiders. Rather than tolerate weakness, they riveted 
every comer of their society to God’s ideal template. By the Restoration, the 
Puritans had become America’s first generation of patriarchs, uncompromising 
defenders of a perfect spiritual order. Maybe too perfect. In midlife, they closed 
ranks around their theocracy by punishing everyone who threatened it — espe- 
cially the younger Cavaliers, whom they regarded as shallow and wasted, in 
every respect their moral inferiors. In elderhood, threatened by tyranny and war, 
they prayed that a still younger generation of Glorious might save their holy 
experiment after all. 

The Puritan birthyears reflect the events that shaped their lifecycle. Their first 
wave (John Cotton, Myles Standish) came of age just as Queen Elizabeth was 
dying and a handful of elder reformers were raising new excitement about church 
reform. Their last wave (Anne Bradstreet, Henry Dunster) came of age during 
the late- 1630s tyranny of Charles I, when twenty ish men and women could hone 
a flinty idealism in years of suppressed expectation — not yet years of revolution. 
Last-wave Puritans were the youngest adults to join in the Great Migration to 
New England and experience the feverish enthusiasm of the Bay Colony in the 
1630s. First wave or last, the Puritans’ success at founding colonies grew with 
advancing age. Such was their peer personality: immature and narcissistic through 
a long adolescence, but implacably strong-willed and morally committed when 
older. The 12,000 Puritan settlers who came to New England in the 1630s were 
mostly married adults in their late twenties to early forties — at least three out 
of four of whom thrived. At least as many Puritans came to colonies south of 
New England, but most were single males in their late teens, and their survival 
rate was as abysmal as their age was young. Only one in six survived Indians, 
starvation, and malaria in time to bear children — not enough to shape the southern 
colonies in the face of the Cavalier hordes who came soon after. 

Even the few southern Puritans who survived to become leaders of lasting 
importance, such as Governor William Berkeley in Virginia and Governor Leon- 



124 


GENERATIONS 


ard Calvert in Maryland, followed their generation’s formula for success. They 
came to America past their mid-twenties, and they applied their leadership to a 
lofty moral purpose. Berkeley wanted Virginia to preserve true-blue English 
royalism. Calvert, steering his flagships Ark and Dove toward the northern shore 
of Chesapeake Bay in 1634, saw “Maryland” as a holy refuge for Catholics. 
Like Winthrop, both were men of tenacious and unyielding principle. The Pu- 
ritans who made it in America did not include the helpless teenage servants 
writing home in tears from Jamestown. Rather, they were those who chose with 
mature and radical conviction to leave the world of their parents. They were 
likely to call out (as did several Mayflower passengers) “Farewell, Babylon! 
Farewell, Rome!” as their ship set sail from England. They were likely to pray 
(as did John Cotton) that “when a man’s calling and person are free and not 
tied by parents, or magistrates, or other people that have an interest in him, God 
opens a door there and sets him loose here, inclines his heart that way, and 
outlooks all difficulties.” 


Puritan Facts 

• Puritan emigrants to New England during the 1630s included roughly one 

university alumnus (Cambridge or Oxford) for every forty families, an 
educational level that towered above England’s at the time and was not 
again reached by any later American generation until the Missionaries, 
nearly three centuries later. 

• Throughout their lives, the English-born Puritan elite earned a reputation for 

radicalism. When they were students and teachers, Thomas Hobbes noted 
scornfully that the English universities had become “the core of rebellion” 
against the English throne. Later on, when the House of Commons ap- 
proached the brink of war, they were far more likely than their next-juniors 
to advocate revolution. In 1642, Roundheads outnumbered Royalists two- 
to-one among all Members of Parliament in their fifties (Puritan cohorts), 
while the opposite ratio prevailed among all M.P.s in their twenties (Cavalier 
cohorts). By the 1650s, elder Puritans in London — some having returned 
from America — dominated the most violent religious sects; several were 
executed when the throne was restored to Charles II in 1660. 

• Wherever the radicals of this English-born generation set up their “reformed” 

communities — in Amsterdam, Geneva, America, or London — women as- 
sumed roles of conspicuous activism and leadership. In the 1630s, several 
New England women became popular lay preachers, and the charismatic 
Anne Hutchinson gathered such a powerful Boston constituency that she 
nearly toppled Winthrop’s leadership. Anne Bradstreet today remains the 
most celebrated American authoress bom before the Transcendental . 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


125 


• Puritans held the governorship of Massachusetts for fifty-three years — the 

longest single-generation control of a major political entity in American 
history. The last Puritan governors stepped down from office in Virginia 
( 1 677) , Connecticut (1683), Rhode Island ( 1 686) , and Massachusetts ( 1 692) 
at an average age of 77. 

• Town records indicate that the New England Puritans lived on average into 

their late sixties — making this (excluding the southern settlers) the longest- 
lived American generation bom before the twentieth century. Of all thirty- 
five New England Puritan ministers whose birthdates are known, thirty-two 
preached until their death at a median age of 68; only three retired, at a 
median age of 73. Their longevity can be attributed to good nutrition; 
scattered settlements, which retarded the spread of disease; little crime or 
substance abuse; and a regular pattern of work and leisure, thanks to a 
strictly enforced Sabbath. 


The Puritan Lifecycle 

YOUTH: Puritans grew up in the brightening aftermath of political triumph. 
First-wavers had hardly been bom by the Armada year of 1588 and were still 
in their teens when James I succeeded Queen Elizabeth to the throne. England 
was a confident, optimistic world — booming with trade and new colonies, teem- 
ing with art and construction, and well protected by their fathers’ mighty fleet. 
It was also, their parents told them, an ordered world: Despite the rising bustle, 
every person and planet “knew” his rank. Puritan children — indulged, secure, 
and showered with new schools — should have settled happily into this friendly 
future. But they didn’t. Instead, as they grew into adolescence, a striking number 
became introspective and morally demanding. Behind the new prosperity, these 
children saw moral chaos and spiritual drift. At an early age, they likened London 
to Sodom and Gomorrah. They were obsessed with the sinfulness of man apart 
from God — not, like their midlife elders, with man’s potential for godliness on 
his own. In “Doomsday,” young George Herbert prayed: “Come away, /Help 
our Decay. /Man is out of order hurled, /Parcell’d out to all the world. /Lord, 
thy broken consort raise, /And the music shall be praise.” Elders ridiculed these 
touchy young souls by popularizing the very word “Puritan” to describe them — 
while also puzzling (in the words of one elder Elizabethan) over “whose child 
he is . . . for willingly his faith allows no father.” Most leaders of this genera- 
tion — including Cromwell and Winthrop, John Cotton and Thomas Shepard — 
later recalled a far closer relationship with their mothers. According to historian 
David Leverenz, the Puritan Generation expressed an extreme “ambivalence 
about the father’s role,” reflecting a “mixture of relatively good mothering and 
relatively anxious, distant, weak, or repressive fathers.” 



126 


GENERATIONS 


COMING OF AGE: Near the end of adolescence there arrived — full of 
pain, wonder, and joy — the threshold event of the Puritan lifecycle: the con- 
version experience, the moment when God “ravished” them. Tentative prayers 
became rushes of enthusiasm. Moral qualms became fervent principle. For years 
after their conversion, Puritans struggled to master this inner ecstasy by inventing 
regimes of personal piety, what historians call “precisionism”: prayer, work, 
reading, spiritual diaries, and sporadic bursts of abstinence and political activism. 
Together, converted Puritans felt more kinship with peers than with parents, and 
used generational code words to identify each other (“churches” for groups, 
“saints” for individuals — as in “we have many saints among us in this town”). 
Alone, they often meditated on their faith with sublimated sexuality. “Spread 
thy skirt over us, and cover our deformity,” Winthrop wrote to God in his diary, 
“make us sick with thy love: let us sleep in thine arms, and awake in thy 
kingdom.” To the chagrin of their fathers, young men insisted on “faith” over 
“works” and celebrated a dependent and feminine relationship to God, as 
“brides of Christ.” By the 1620s, conversion had pushed many of them into 
strident opposition to elder authority, and an apocalyptic strain began appearing 
in their writings. Reviling the “prodigious lusts” and “impudent sinning” he 
saw around him, Herbert wrote: “Religion stands on tiptoe in our land, /Ready 
to pass to the American strand.” Pointing to “these so evil and declining times,” 
Winthrop called upon his peers to leave home and establish in America a gov- 
ernment of Christ in exile. Thus began the Great Migration to New England. 

RISING ADULTHOOD: During a single decade, the 1630s, the young 
Puritan voyagers to New England founded nearly everything for which future 
Americans would remember them: the port of Boston, church-centered towns 
stretching from Connecticut to Maine, Harvard University, a printing press, 
schools for Indians, representative assemblies, and their own liturgy. These rising 
adults hardly heard the wolves still howling near their cabins as they labored — 
with minds as much as bodies — to create an entirely God-focused civilization. 
To account for their creative energy, Winthrop, Cotton, and Shepard spoke 
incessantly of “love.” Church members laid “loving hands” on ministers. New 
towns held “loving conversations,” agreed to unanimous covenants of “ever- 
lasting love,” and kept a “loving eye” on neighbors. There was nothing liberal 
about their utopian communities. To Puritans, all society had to be a church and 
all behavior had to reflect perfect fellow feeling. Of 4 ‘toleration, ’ ’ declared Cotton 
proudly, “we are professed enemies.” Thus, when two group leaders disagreed 
over God’s truth, compromise was unthinkable. Ego clashes typically ended in 
banishment — the fate of Anne Hutchinson (who conversed personally with God), 
Roger Williams (who deemed no one holy enough to take communion with him), 
and Samuel Gorton (whose “Family of Love” worshiped him as Jesus Christ). 
Group intolerance, not frontier spirit, propelled the wide geographic scattering 
of Puritan towns during the 1630s. A single settlement just couldn’t accommodate 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


127 


so many infallible prophets, each playing “spiritual chemist” (said John Wheel- 
right) in search of the perfect life. 

MIDLIFE: The outbreak of the English Civil War in 1641 put a sudden stop 
to new voyages and thrust the American colonies into temporary isolation. It 
also marked a midlife turning point in the Puritan lifecycle — from inward en- 
thusiasm to outward righteousness. During the 1640s and 1650s, Puritans aban- 
doned fanciful dreams of world reform and labored to achieve a more realistic 
ideal: enforceable moral order at home. As geographic mobility declined and as 
customs congealed around the seasonal rhythms of agriculture, Puritans steered 
their institutions toward formalism. They replaced “loving” covenants with 
written compacts, enacted draconian punishments for religious apostasy, and 
insisted that all new church members offer public proof of their conversions. 
Puritan parents and leaders raged over the apathy of younger Cavaliers who 
seemed perversely reluctant to join their churches. “This was an alarming sit- 
uation for a community which had been founded for religious purposes,” ob- 
serves historian Edmund Morgan. “It was one thing to create a church of saints; 
it was another to let those saints carry the church out of the world with them 
entirely when they died.” But like their radical peers back in England (and like 
Berkeley in Virginia), advancing age made the Puritans less compromising to- 
ward any behavior that did not conform to the “pure heart.” By 1645, Winthrop 
insisted that his fellow colonists had “a liberty to that only which is good, just, 
and honest” and urged them all to “submit unto that authority which is set over 
you ... for your own good.” By the late 1650s, the humorless Governor John 
Endecott (who hanged younger Cavalier Quakers who mocked the Puritan creed) 
completed this generation’s midlife transition from the law of love to the love 
of law. 

ELDERHOOD: They entered old age knowing their world was heading for 
crisis. Half the New England Puritans lived to learn of the restoration of the 
throne to Charles II in 1660, which shoved the colonies back under the heel of 
Stuart “tyranny.” A quarter lived to witness their grandchildren go off to fight 
(many to die) in a gruesome war against King Philip’s Indians in 1675. A handful, 
like Bradstreet, still presided in high office as late as 1689, when the colonies 
joined England in the Glorious Revolution against James II. Most of these 
ancients, looking down on the troubled souls of their grown children, feared the 
young would trade ideals for security and thereby destroy everything that mat- 
tered. Their last act, accordingly, was to set an unyielding example. The diehards 
included patriarchs like Massachusetts Governor Richard Bellingham, who (at 
age 75) scornfully burned letters from the English crown; John Davenport, who 
(at age 70) left his Mosaic “Kingdom of God” in New Haven to fulminate in 
Boston against youth who “polluted” the church; Indian apostle John Eliot, who 
(at age 72) protested seeing his life’s work tom apart by younger soldiers more 



128 


GENERATIONS 


interested in killing Indians than in saving their souls; and Virginia Governor 
Berkeley, who (at age 71) hanged twenty-three younger leaders of Bacon’s 
Rebellion. Confident that principle would triumph, most Puritans faced death 
with what historian Perry Miller has described as “cosmic optimism.” Said a 
witness at John Eliot’s deathbed: “His last breath smelt strong of Heaven.” So 
often had the Puritans expected Christ’s return that when death finally arrived 
they met it with composure — like travelers returning home after a pilgrimage. 

* * * 

Spiritual self-absorption was both the strength and the weakness of this gen- 
eration. It gave the Puritans the confidence to plant the first successful colonies 
in the American wilderness. Yet it did so by making them think they were 
building the only perfect society since Adam’s Fall. New Jerusalem was a project 
the next generation would not understand — and would secretly resent. As the 
Puritans grew older, they forgot that grace could be experienced only by the 
moment. They tried to freeze their church of peer- love and isolate it from every 
external corruption. Their punishment was to see, among the devils attacking 
Eden, the faces of their firstborn, their own Cavalier children. Their expiation 
was to pass away showing the later-bom Glorious what it meant to believe in 
an idea. Insensible to the Puritans’ inner fire, the Glorious later revered them 
as black-clothed statues of unfeeling rectitude. We can only guess how this 
image would have struck the Puritans themselves — a generation that had once 
forsaken all earthly dross to create the perfect society, a community of love. 
“As ’tis with woman when the fullness of the husband’s love is seen, it knits 
the heart invincibly to him, and makes her do anything for him; so here.” Thus 
did Puritan Thomas Shepard as a young minister describe the faith that motivated 
his coming-of-age peers. Later generations would rediscover this feeling. But 
the Puritans’ own offspring could not possibly understand. They had not been 
there — at that moment of history and at that phase of life. 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


129 


CAVALIER GENERATION 

Bom: 1615-1647 
Type: Reactive 

Age Location: 

Puritan Awakening in youth 
Glorious Revolution Crisis in midlife 

“A wicked and perverse generation,” the young Quaker Josiah Coale called 
his peers as he toured the American colonies at midcentury. He might also have 
called them the CAVALIER GENERATION, a peer group of pluck, materialism, 
and self-doubt. The Cavaliers followed the Puritans the way flotsam scatters 
after the crashing of a storm wave: skepticism following belief, egotism following 
community, devils following saints. At their worst, the Cavaliers were an un- 
lettered generation of little faith and crude ambition — so they were told all their 
lives, and so many of them believed and behaved. Their roster includes more 
than the usual number of rogues: adventurers, witches, pirates, smugglers, In- 
dian-haters, and traitors. Yet at their best, the Cavaliers were a generation whose 
perverse defiance of moral authority gave America its first instinct for individual 
autonomy, for the “rights” of property and liberty — concepts utterly foreign to 
their Puritan elders. William Penn, apostle of religious toleration, was a Cavalier, 
as were such unattractive and pugnacious defenders of colonial independence as 
Nathaniel Bacon, Increase Mather, Elisha Cooke, and Jacob Leisler. 

The typical life experience of the 100,000-member Cavalier generation varied 
dramatically according to geography. Of the 40,000 in New England, nearly all 
were either bom in America or brought over as children by their parents. They 
grew up in large families among towns and churches dominated by their long- 
lived Puritan elders. Of the 60,000 or so farther south, especially in the Ches- 
apeake colonies of Virginia and Maryland, most were immigrants — perhaps 
two- thirds coming over as young, parentless, and indentured servants. The Ches- 
apeake Cavaliers rarely saw a complete family. Most arrived unattached and 
perished before marrying. Throughout the seventeenth century, theirs was a 
frontier society of extreme youth and routine violence — “a people,” scowled 
the old Puritan Governor Berkeley, “where six parts of seven at least are poor, 
indebted, discontented, and armed.” Yet whatever the colony, Cavaliers every- 
where met life on similar terms: discarded in a childhood without structure, 
shamed while coming of age, and pushed into adulthood with few hopes other 
than climbing fast and avoiding judgment. Later on, during years of war and 



CAVALIER GENERATION (Bom 1615 to 1647) 


TYPE: Reactive 

Total number: 100,000 
Percent immigrant: 61% 

Percent slave: 4% 

SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

c. 1616 Mary Dyer (1660)* 

1619 Arent Van Curler (1667)* 
c. 1620 John Carter (1669)* 
c. 1620 Josias Fendall (1687)* 

1624 John Hull (1683)* 
c. 1626 John Pynchon (1703)* 

1631 William Stoughton (1701)* 

1631 Michael Wigglesworth (1705)* 

1637 Elisha Cooke (1715) 

1638 Fitz-John Winthrop (1707) 
c. 1638 George Keith (1716)* 

1639 Increase Mather (1723) 

1639 Benjamin Church (1718) 

1640 Jacob Leisler (1691)* 
c. 1640 Samuel Willard (1707) 

c. 1642 Metacomet, “King Philip” (1676) 
1643 Solomon Stoddard (1729) 
c. 1645 William Kidd (1701)* 

1647 Nathaniel Bacon (1676)* 

1647 Joseph Dudley (1720) 

* = immigrant 


FAMILY TREE 

Typical grandparents: bom c. 1560 
(e.g., Shakespeare) 

Parents: first- wave Puritan 
Children: Glorious and Enlightenment 
Typical grandchildren: Awakening 

PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

First and last year of colonial governorship 
and total duration of officeholding 
(permanent immigrants only): 

Massachusetts: 1672-1715, 27 years 
Connecticut: 1683-1707, 22 years 
Rhode Island: 1657-1698, 22 years 
Virginia: 1655-1690, 12 years 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1618 Aurangzeb (1707) 

1630 Charles II (1685) 

1632 John Locke (1704) 

1638 Louis XIV (1715) 

1644 William Penn (1718) 


Age 

Date 

0-15 

1630 

0-20 

1635 

0-29 

1644 

2-34 

1649 

8-40 

1655 

13-45 

1660 

17-49 

1664 

29-61 

1676 

38-70 

1685 

42-74 

1689 

45-77 

1692 

66-98 

1713 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

Great Migration to New England begins 

Rapid growth in servant immigration to Chesapeake 

Second massacre of Jamestown by Indians 

Charles I executed; young royalists emigrate to the Chesapeake 

First permanent settlements in Carolinas 

Restoration of Charles II; theaters, brothels reopen in London 

Duke of York captures New Amsterdam in second Dutch War 

King Philip’s War ends; Bacon rebels sentenced to death in Virginia 

James II inherits throne, creates “Dominion of New England” 

Glorious Revolution; Comte de Frontenac attacks from Canada 

Salem witch trials 

Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713) ends with Treaty of Utrecht 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: The Day of Doom (Michael Wigglesworth); 
A Character of the Province of Maryland (George Alsop); Pray for the Rising 
Generation (Increase Mather); Mercy Magnified on a Penitent Prodigal (Samuel 
Willard); Will and Doom (Gershom Bulkeley); The Danger of Speedy Degeneracy 
(Solomon Stoddard); Entertaining Passages Relating to King Philip's War (Benjamin 
Church) 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


131 


rebellion, midlife Cavaliers managed to salvage their reputation for posterity — 
not by suddenly turning virtuous, but by fighting gamely according to their own 
rules. 

The Cavalier character first took shape in the Old World. There, around the 
mid-seventeenth century, a new generation came of age — profoundly disillu- 
sioned by the chaos left behind by saintly next-elders. On the continent, three 
decades of holy war had succumbed to the realpolitik of hungry new superpowers: 
France, Sweden, and Holland. In England, religious revolution had given way 
to the brutality of Cromwell, the decadence of the Restoration, and the duplicity 
of Cavalier- age kings Charles II and James II. For this new generation, it was 
a time to repudiate failed dreams, to learn that self-interest is the secret of 
happiness and that power is the source of glory. Tired of bookish principle, 
Cavaliers avoided Puritan idealism, prompting English historian Lawrence Stone 
to note that “the old were more radical than the young in the 1640s.” They 
grasped instead for what was tangible and grandiose — the fabled jewels of Au- 
rangzeb, the Versailles splendor of Louis XIV, the sensuous curves of baroque 
art. The initial Cavalier birthyear, 1615, marks the first English-born cohort 
whose childhood environment began to disintegrate from the stable Elizabethan 
order known by Puritans at like age. In America, that year also draws a rough 
dividing line between the Great Migration to New England (ending in 1640 for 
adults in their late 20s) and the huge influx of English immigrants to Virginia 
(beginning about 1635 for servants in their late teens). 

The English word “Cavalier” comes from a mixture of Romance words for 
“horse,” “hair,” and “knight” (in French; cheval , cheveux, and chevalier ) — 
fitting images of the showy, arrogant, and predatory values this generation took 
to heart. Many historians, most recently David Hackett Fischer, have called this 
the “Cavalier wave” of American immigration. To be sure, only a few adorned 
themselves like Prince Rupert and fully dressed the part. But what matters is 
how many played the part — and not only in royalist Virginia. Fitz and Wait 
Winthrop, concludes their biographer, “grew up a couple of Cavaliers in Israel”: 
“half-ludicrous, uncertain of their values, and always chiefly absorbed with 
fashion, status, and accumulation of real estate.” “By the mid- 1650s,” writes 
historian Bernard Bailyn about New England, “the character of the rising gen- 
eration was discernible, and to the entrenched oligarchy it seemed pitifully weak. 
The children of the Founders . . . knew nothing of the fire that had steeled the 
hearts of their fathers. They seemed to their elders frivolous, given to excess in 
dress and manners, lacking the necessary fierceness of belief.” What they did 
not lack, these children would someday show their elders, was the necessary 
fierceness of action. 



132 


GENERATIONS 


Cavalier Facts 

• A young male servant coming to Maryland in the 1640s stood only a two- 

thirds chance of surviving the voyage. If he made it ashore, he faced a 57 
percent chance of living out his indenture term, a 29 percent chance of ever 
owning enough land to support himself, a 6 percent chance of dying with 
an estate worth more than 1,000 pounds, and less than a 1 percent chance 
of ending up as a respected “planter-merchant.” 

• While the Puritan voyagers to Massachusetts came mainly from the east of 

England (Roundheads and short vowels), the Cavalier voyagers to the Ches- 
apeake came mainly from the southwest of England (Royalists and wide 
vowels). These regional differences in England accentuated the contrast 
between the two peer personalities — and gave rise to regional differences 
in America that have persisted to this day. 

• Throughout the colonies, the Cavaliers probably represent the largest one- 

generation decline in educational achievement from their next-elders in 
American history. In Massachusetts, no Harvard-trained Cavalier minister 
was ever regarded (or regarded himself) as the intellectual equal of the 
leading Puritans. In the Chesapeake, 60 percent of the young immigrants 
could not sign a name to their indenture contracts. 

• From the 1640s through the 1660s, a majority of the first graduates of Harvard 

College left for England seeking escape or adventure — usually returning 
again to their native New England by midlife. 

• A striking number of best-known Cavaliers died a violent death: Quaker Mary 

Dyer (hanged in Boston, 1660); the twenty-three captured leaders of Bacon’s 
Rebellion (hanged in Virginia, 1677); Metacomet (the Indian leader “King 
Philip,” shot in the back in rural New England, 1676); Jacob Leisler and 
Jacob Milboume (drawn and quartered in New York City, 1691); most of 
the thirty-one convicted Salem witches (hanged in Salem, 1692); Thomas 
Tew (blown in half by Muslim merchants, 1695); and William Kidd (hanged 
in London, 1701). 

• Among the thousands of young, poor, and solitary Cavaliers who emigrated 

from England to the Chesapeake, four — John Washington, Thomas Jeffer- 
son, James Maddison, and Andrew Munro — were great-grandfathers to four 
of the first five U.S. Presidents. 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


133 


The Cavalier Lifecycle 

YOUTH: During the 1630s through the 1650s, as adults grappled with mes- 
sianic visions, children understood that no one cared much about their welfare. 
In England, revolution and war sent tens of thousands of these afterthought 
kids — orphaned and abandoned — scurrying toward cities like London and Bris- 
tol. There they scrambled for a living until poverty, arrest, defeat in battle, or 
“kidnapping” (a word first coined at midcentury) consigned them to disease- 
ridden ships bound for Virginia and Maryland. Unschooled but worldly-wise, 
youthful Cavalier servants fought bad odds and self-hatred to survive grueling 
seven-year slavelike indentures in the tobacco fields. “To wickedness I quickly 
was inclined,” rhymed teenage convict James Revel in Virginia, “Thus soon 
is tainted any youthful mind.” Childhood among the isolated and fanatical towns 
of Winthrop’s “New Jerusalem” was safer, but hardly more conducive to self- 
esteem. Puritan parents frequently castigated youngsters for their palpable un- 
saintliness, and elder assemblies in Boston soon declared child misbehavior a 
capital crime. Perhaps more often, self-obsessed Puritans left kids on their own — 
to discover New England for themselves among the forests and Indians. “I have 
no confidence in my doings, O wretched worm that lam,” wrote young Michael 
Wigglesworth in his Massachusetts diary. “What will become of this genera- 
tion?” remarked Eleazar Mather several years later. “Are they not in danger to 
sink and perish in the waters?” 

COMING OF AGE: “Early in the 1640s,” notes historian Perry Miller, 
“ministers began to complain that sons and daughters were not exhibiting zeal.” 
By midcentury, midlife New Englanders spoke routinely of a “corrupt and 
degenerate rising generation” — or, as Puritan Richard Mather put it, “the sad 
face of the rising generation.” Unimpressed by these “heathenish” and “hard- 
hearted” 20-year-olds, Puritans accused them of “cruelty” and “covetousness,” 
of living by “external considerations only, by a kind of outward force without 
any spiritual life or vigor or delight in them.” In England, the mayor of Bristol 
echoed similar disgust at the “felons, runaways, and beggars” flowing through 
his port to the Chesapeake. And when they arrived in Virginia, Puritan Governor 
Berkeley picked up where others left off. “The wild beast multitude,” Berkeley 
called them — “rude, dissolute, and tumultuous” youths who valued “pelts” 
over their lives. Young Cavaliers offered few rebuttals. “We, poor we, alas 
what are we!” lamented young William Stoughton. “It is a sad name to be 
styled ‘Children that are Corrupters.’ ” Yet beyond blaming themselves, Cav- 
aliers grew to resent the lies they were inheriting. Their Puritan elders had 
promised them a “New Jerusalem” (in Massachusetts) and a royalist “land of 



134 


GENERATIONS 


plenty” (in Virginia), but all they saw around them were miserable exiles and 
a howling wilderness. “In the eyes of the immigrants,” concludes historian 
Oscar Handlin, “the second generation seemed a ruder, less cultivated, and 
wilder people.” But in the eyes of the Cavaliers, what was ruder and wilder 
was the New World to which their elders had taken them. 

RISING ADULTHOOD: Alienated by elder criticism, thirty ish Cavaliers 
struck out alone, trying (explained officer Fitz Winthrop, then a young expatriate 
in London) to stay away from “a city or place where I am known, and where 
every judgment will pass their verdict on me.” They also hustled desperately 
to win wealth and respect. In the Chesapeake world of isolated plantations and 
contracted labor, rising planters like John Carter competed fiercely for what they 
called “the main chance,” that one swift trade or promotion that would catapult 
them to the top. In New England, apprentices like John Hull became silversmiths 
and world traders, fur trappers like Benjamin Church wandered to the frontier, 
and the aspiring elite sought attractive posts back in England. Of all ways to the 
top, land became a Cavalier obsession. “Land! Land! hath been the Idol of 
many in New England,” thundered Increase Mather at his peers. The odds were 
slim that an ex-servant could acquire enough land to merit a titled name (“mister’ ’ 
or “esquire”), but Cavaliers took their chances willingly. Besides, by bending 
a few rules — smuggling, bribing, faking “headright” documents — they could 
always get an edge. The truly bold joined Thomas Tew and William Kidd in 
the ultimate gamble and purest of Cavalier lifestyles: piracy and “buccaneering,” 
a rising plague along the Atlantic coast from the 1650s forward. Why not go 
for it? Everyone kept telling the Cavalier he was a loser anyway. A dead loser, 
he would no longer have to listen. A rich loser, no one would dare tell him in 
his presence. 

MIDLIFE: The crisis year of 1 675 marked the Cavaliers’ passage into midlife 
and inaugurated the darkest two decades in American history until nearly another 
century afterward. In New England, the bloody Indian rebellion known as King 
Philip’s War killed more inhabitants per capita than any subsequent war in 
American history. In Virginia, Bacon’s Rebellion similarly began as a war against 
Indians, but soon expanded into a vicious civil war between a Puritan governor 
(Sir William Berkeley) and a Cavalier rebel (Nathaniel Bacon). More adversity 
soon followed: epidemics, riots, the colonial Glorious Revolution, and global 
war against France. All eyes turned to the Cavaliers for leadership. Could this 
wild and pragmatic generation handle such adversity? Doubtful Puritan elders, 
still retaining symbolic authority into extreme old age, shook their heads. But 
Cavalier leadership prevailed, and did so thanks to talents their elders never 
possessed — realistic diplomacy (Increase Mather), cunning generalship (Ben- 
jamin Church), and reckless courage (Jacob Leisler). Outshining the Puritans in 
elemental altruism, midlife Cavaliers staged suicidal rebellions and bore crushing 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


135 


war-era taxation on behalf of their families without complaint or condescension. 
They treated the younger Glorious, moreover, with a gentleness they had been 
denied at like age. Exhausted and politically tainted once the crisis had passed, 
they hardly protested the numerous vendettas (such as the Salem witchcraft frenzy 
of 1692) that targeted their own peers. 

ELDERHOOD: At the turn of the century, Cavaliers sank into old age 
marveling that perhaps the worst was over. They had survived the Indians, the 
Restoration, the Dutch, the rebellions, and (for the time being) the French. The 
colonies were again growing rapidly, thanks mainly to the younger and more 
industrious Glorious. Reminiscing over their lives, many Cavaliers no doubt 
attributed their success to dumb luck, the only sort of grace that most of them 
had ever prayed for. Even as elders, they never tried to hide their generation’s 
faults, especially their vulgarity and irreligion. “This exile race, the Age of 
Iron,” New Yorker Henricus Selyns described them in the 1690s, “living here 
among so many wild beasts and bulls of Bashan.” Nor did Cavaliers ever stop 
blaming themselves for not measuring up to their elders. “If the body of the 
present generation be compared with what was here forty years ago,” boomed 
Increase Mather, “what a sad degeneracy is evident in the view of every man.” 
As Benjamin Tompson looked back in verse: “These golden times (too fortunate 
to hold), / Were quickly sin’d away for love of gold.” But Cavalier “gold” only 
landed on a handful: the few former apprentices who now owned Boston mansions 
or shares in a New York pirate ship, or the few former servants who now owned 
Tidewater estates with private river docks. Others were not so lucky. Most 
Cavaliers died before age 45; the rest entered old age without wealth or pretense — 
crusty, used up, and unaware of what they had given. In his late seventies, 
Boston merchant Joshua Scottow wrote a book entitled Old Mens Tears for 
Their Own Declensions , and the eightyish Jonathan Burt agreed that “the Lord 
is pleased with the Rod to visit me when Old.” 

* * * 

Self-deprecating realism gave the Cavaliers special strengths: the ability to 
outwit evil, to survive in an ugly, no-second-chance world and later joke about 
their escapades in America’s first adventure tales and travelogues. Unlike the 
Puritans (who could just as well have emigrated to the moon), Cavaliers felt a 
visceral affinity for the American wilderness — lonely and uncouth, like their 
own generation. “Dear New England, Dearest land to me!” wrote Michael 
Wigglesworth, painfully aware how many mountains and forests distanced him 
from civilization. Yet if the Cavaliers excelled in outgaming Satan — perhaps 
because they were “devils” themselves, as the elder Berkeley told Bacon and 
the younger Cotton Mather told the Salem witches — they remained helpless 
against the judgment of God and community. Early in the seventeenth century, 
Cavaliers grew up in a world that faulted children and hardly bothered to punish 
kidnappers (the official fine was one shilling) who “spirited” London waifs to 



136 


GENERATIONS 


the New World as quasi-slaves. Near the end of the century, they grew old in 
a world that faulted the elderly, that sermonized on old age with what historian 
John Demos calls ‘ ‘a note of distaste . . . almost of repulsion . ’ ’ The very sacrifices 
they made as mature adults to protect their families helped, sadly, to keep 
themselves a target of blame throughout their lifecycle. 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


137 


GLORIOUS GENERATION 

Bom: 1648-1673 
Type: Civic 

Age Location: 

Glorious Revolution Crisis in rising adulthood 
Great Awakening in elderhood 

“Be up and doing. Activity. Activity,” preached Benjamin Colman in his 
thirties. “This will be most likely followed and rewarded, with triumphant 
satisfaction.” Colman’s message energized his young audience — and sums up 
the life story of the GLORIOUS GENERATION, the band of American heroes 
who came of age during the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Their dutiful 
valor won the Indian wars and repelled the French. Their cooperative discipline 
overthrew Stuart tyranny and quelled social disorder. Their rational minds 
planned harbors, charted the planets, and organized African slaves. In 1689, the 
colonial Glorious Revolution led them all, at ages 16 to 41 , through a culminating 
rite of passage — stamping them for life as public persons, institution-founders, 
collective builders, and secular dreamers. Ever afterward, their diaries buzzed 
with nonstop activity: families, elections, trade, profits, roads, cultivation — all 
accomplished with only the rarest idle feeling. To Cotton Mather in Boston, 
who wrote 450 volumes over three decades, “sloth” was inexcusable; to Robert 
Beverley in Virginia, “laziness” the only sin. Not just any activity would do. 
It had to be “social,” “useful,” “serve the public” or “enrich the common- 
wealth.” 

Growing up in an increasingly protective adult world, coming of age at a 
moment of triumph, and entering adulthood programmed for achievement, the 
Glorious mapped out a lifecycle of enormous collective confidence. Those bom 
before 1648 arrived too soon to experience what Cavalier Thomas Shepard, Jr., 
called the “more thorough, conscientious, religious, effectual care for the rising 
generation.” Those bom after 1673 came of age too late to participate in victory. 
As the Puritans’ favored heirs, the Glorious revered the moral vision of elder 
patriarchs and never imagined improving it. Instead, from childhood on, they 
understood that their group mission was to champion that vision against growing 
worldly threats — to make it stable and orderly, to give it permanence and power 
and grandeur. After helping to topple the Cavalier-age Stuart James II from the 
throne of England, the Glorious effectively defended their “rightful” colonial 
liberties from later crown-appointed governors. Yet they also came to admire 
their like-minded peers in England and tried to bathe in the reflected glory of 



GLORIOUS GENERATION (Bom 1648 to 1673) 


TYPE: Civic 

Total number: 160,000 
Percent immigrant: 42% 
Percent slave: 12% 


SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

1649 Elihu Yale (1721) 

1651 Sir William Phips (1695) 

1 65 1 William Randolph (1711)* 

1651 William Fitzhugh (1701)* 

1651 Francis Daniel Pastorius (c. 1720)* 

1652 John Wise (1725) 

1652 William Byrd (1704)* 

1652 Samuel Sewall (1730)* 

1655 James Blair (1743)* 

1657 Hannah Dustin (c. 1730) 

1657 Peter Schuyler (1724) 

1658 Thomas Brattle (1713) 

1659 Samuel Cranston (1727) 

1663 Cotton Mather (1728) 

1663 Robert (“King”) Carter (1732) 
1666 Gurdon Saltonstall (1724) 

1669 Joseph Talcott (1741) 

1671 Lewis Morris (1746) 

1673 Robert Beverley (1722) 

1673 Benjamin Colman (1747) 

* = immigrant 


FAMILY TREE: 

Typical grandparents: first- wave Puritan 
Parents: Puritan and Cavalier 
Children: Enlightenment and Awakening 
Typical grandchildren: Liberty 

PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

First and last year of colonial governorship 
and total duration of officeholding 
(permanent immigrants only): 

Massachusetts: 1692-1694, 2 years 
Connecticut: 1707-1741, 34 years 
Rhode Island: 1683-1740, 44 years 
Virginia: 1705-1741, 11 years 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1650 King William III (1702) 

1650 First Duke of Marlborough (1722) 
1665 Queen Anne (1714) 

1672 Joseph Addison (1719) 

1672 Peter the Great (1725) 


Age 

Date 

0-12 

1660 

2-27 

1675 

4-29 

1677 

9-34 

1682 

12-37 

1685 

16-41 

1689 

17-42 

1690 

19-44 

1692 

32-57 

1705 

40-65 

1713 

47-72 

1720 

61-86 

1734 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 
Restoration of Charles II 

Start of King Philip’s War and Bacon’s Rebellion 
Culpeper’s Rebellion in the Carolinas 

Quakers begin large-scale settlement of Pennsylvania and Jerseys 
James II inherits throne, creates “Dominion of New England” 
Glorious Revolution in America 

King William’s War (1690-1697) against French Canada begins 

Salem witch trials; acceleration of slave imports to South 

Omnibus slave code enacted in Virginia 

Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713) ends with Treaty of Utrecht 

First paper money, insurance, stagecoaches; rising household wealth 

Great Awakening begins in Connecticut Valley 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: Good Order Established in Pennsylvania and New 
Jersey (Thomas Budd); The Revolution in New England Justified (Samuel Sewall); Essays to 
Do Good (Cotton Mather); The History and Present State of Virginia (Robert Beverley); 
Rulers Feeding and Guiding Their People (Benjamin Wadsworth); Gods Deals with Us as 
Rational Creatures (Benjamin Colman) 




THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


139 


Marlborough’s brilliant victories, London’s booming prosperity, Addison’s “Au- 
gustan” odes, Purcell’s martial trumpets, Van Brugh’s Palladian facades — and, 
especially. King William’s “Glorious” arrival. It pleased them to feel part of 
a worldwide effort to build a great empire. 

The Glorious disliked spiritual heat — not because they felt unworthy (as did 
many Cavaliers), but because they deemed the gloomy enthusiasm of their elders 
antisocial and unproductive. Far better, they urged, to regard religion from a 
more optimistic and rational perspective. Benjamin Wadsworth called the cov- 
enant of grace “most reasonable.” Colman affirmed that “a cheerful spirit is a 
happy and lovely thing.” Worshipping Newton as “our perpetual dictator,” 
Cotton Mather reminded his peers: “Our faith itself will not be found to be good 
and profitable if good works do not follow upon it.” The Glorious infatuation 
with “good works” and useful reason made them distrust the wildness and self- 
doubt of their next-elders. It also shaped them into a decidedly male-focused 
generation. Striving (like “King” Carter) to “preserve the character of the 
father,” Glorious authors like Beverley and Mather celebrated their male ances- 
tors while admitting with Benjamin Wadsworth that “persons are often more 
apt to despise a mother (the weaker vessel, and frequently most indulgent), than 
a father.” As the Salem trials demonstrated in 1692, the Cavalier and female 
“witch” was a natural target for a young generation of soldiers, scientists, and 
builders ready to remake the world. 

The Glorious were America’s first generation of secular optimists. As children, 
they looked upon the passion and poverty of their parents as an embarrassment 
to be transcended. As adults, they set out not to save themselves personally, but 
to save their society collectively. They believed that social institutions could 
improve the “welfare of mankind,” that science could be “useful,” that pros- 
perity could “advance” over time. Could such an ambitious life trajectory betray 
any disappointment? Not so long as the Glorious were still building and doing. 
Yet later on, after the church bells had pealed in 1713 for the peace of Utrecht 
and the Glorious had settled into midlife, many looked uneasily over the world 
they had created. By then, they had cause to worry that an era celebrating 
“Reason” might someday be despised as a cultural wasteland; that their spinning 
wheels of “Commerce” were wearing down the civic spirit they held so dear; 
and, most ominously, that chattel slavery — an institution this generation chiseled 
into law — might cost their heirs far more in hatred (and blood) than it would 
ever benefit them in wealth. 


Glorious Facts 

• The Glorious were America’s first mostly native-born generation of colonists. 
From first cohort to last, immigrants declined steadily relative to natives, 
especially after Parliament ceased transporting convicts in 1670 and enacted 



140 


GENERATIONS 


the death penalty for “spiriting” children in 1671. The Glorious included 
most of the young Quakers who laid out Philadelphia’s boxy street plan in 
the 1680s and were the first generation to include large numbers of non- 
English (German, French Huguenot, and African) members. 

• Over the span of the active adulthood of the Glorious — from their first wave 

at age 30 (1677) to their last wave at age 60 (1733) — blacks rose from 4 
to 15 percent of the total American population. 

• Except for the first Puritan immigrants, the Glorious were elected to town 

offices at a younger age than members of any other generation during the 
colonial era. In the two colonies having elective governorships, Connecticut 
and Rhode Island, they also came to colonial office younger (at age 41 and 
32) and served far longer (thirty-four and forty-two years). 

• In the Chesapeake, the rising Glorious elite replaced an unstable government 

of immigrant adventurers with an enduring oligarchy of “native” planters. 
In the decades preceding the American Revolution, 70 percent of the 110 
leaders of the Virginia House of Burgesses were drawn from families res- 
ident in Virginia before 1690. 

• As America’s first generation of veterans, the Glorious received the first war- 

service pensions — usually in the form of land grants issued after 1700 by 
Glorious-dominated colonial assemblies. 


The Glorious Lifecycle 

YOUTH: On the eve of the first Glorious births, Puritans entering midlife 
began changing their minds about how children should be raised. In 1647, 
lamenting the “great neglect of many parents” that had turned out so many 
jaundiced Cavaliers, the Massachusetts assembly ordered towns to provide pri- 
mary schooling for children — a landmark statute soon copied elsewhere in New 
England. Also in 1647, Virginia required counties to “take up and educate’’ 
abandoned children and the next year opened its first “orphan’s court.” During 
the 1650s and 1660s, the trend toward protective nurture strengthened. For the 
first time, colonial parents came under attack for what Increase Mather labeled 
“cruel usage of poor children.” “Do we not grievously neglect them? to instruct 
them, to cherish and promote any good in them?” worried Harvard president 
Urian Oakes in 1673. New England churches began teaching good works and 
civic duty (“preparation of salvation”) rather than passive conversion. While 
sheltering young Glorious from material harm, Puritan and Cavalier elders also 
urged them to be cooperative achievers able to save their colonies from impending 
danger. Though telling young New Englanders they were “walled about with 
the love of God,” Oakes also reminded them that “every true believer is a 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


141 


soldier, engaged in a warfare.” Leaving instructions in 1669 for the care of his 
six-year-old son Robert, the dying Virginian John Carter instructed his guardians 
to “preserve him from harm” and educate him to be “useful for his estate.” 
The double message worked. By the mid- 1670s, a new sort of American began 
graduating from Harvard and taking over Virginia plantations: confident ration- 
alists with a steady eye on their future. 

COMING OF AGE: Their rite of passage offered few moments of lone 
introspection. Instead, it forced the coming-of-age Glorious to band together and 
prove their public spirit in the heat of action. For the first wave (the eldest in 
their late twenties), the trial began with the Indian wars of 1675-1676. For the 
last wave (the youngest in their late teens), it culminated in the terrifying riots 
and rebellions of 1689-1692 that expelled from America Europe’s ‘ ‘Great Scarlet 
Whore,” the alleged Catholic conspiracy of James II and Louis XIV. Cotton 
Mather called it “a happy revolution.” And well might all of his peers, for the 
crisis “released long-suppressed generational tensions” (according to historian 
T. H. Breen) and triggered a seismic shift in political authority from old to 
young. In New England, young Glorious ousted elder militia commanders, set 
up Committees of Public Safety, voted themselves into public office, and sup- 
ported the witchcraft frenzy against elders who victimized children. In the Ches- 
apeake, the educated young elite who came to power from the 1670s to 1690s 
created the famous “planter oligarchy” of Byrds, Randolphs, Fitzhughs, Carters, 
Pages, Taneys, and Carrolls that would shun outsiders and rule the South for 
generations to come. Throughout the colonies, energetic young men began el- 
bowing aside their seniors. Rather than “dishonor yourselves,” the 27-year-old 
Mather boldly preached to aging Cavaliers in 1690, “look often into your cof- 
fins” and “let your quietus gratify you. Be pleased with the retirement you are 
dismissed into.” 

RISING ADULTHOOD: Once past the crisis, thirtyish Glorious labored to 
build new institutions that would promote social order and productive activity. 
Detesting the remnants of the anarchic Cavalier lifestyle, they helped the English 
rid the New World of piracy and replaced the predatory violence of Chesapeake 
planters with friendlier substitutes like gambling and horse racing. Unlike the 
Cavaliers at like age, they did not wander. Planter-statesmen in the South, or 
farmer-soldiers in the North, the Glorious stayed put, taking pride in their ethos 
of loyal community-building. Where young voters could empower their own 
governors (Samuel Cranston in Connecticut or Joseph Talcott in Rhode Island), 
they made their colonies peaceful and prosperous. Elsewhere, they closed ranks 
and enforced their will on crown-appointed governors through peer solidarity. 
Rising Glorious men and women encouraged an unprecedented division between 
sex roles. Men began wearing powdered periwigs, women the whalebone cor- 
set — new symbols of what John Cotton m 1699 celebrated as “the industry of 



142 


GENERATIONS 


the man” and the “keep at home” woman. Religion underwent a complementary 
transition from passion to “reason,” from fanaticism to “cheer,” from mysti- 
cism to “clarity.” By pushing spiritual emotion toward domesticated mothers, 
Cotton Mather’s “handmaidens of the Lord,” the Glorious clergy left fathers 
free to build. The duty of “Man,” announced Thomas Budd in Philadelphia, 
was “to bring creation into order.” 

MIDLIFE: In 1721, clergyman John Wise surveyed the busy coastal ports 
of America and announced: “I say it is the merchandise of any country, wisely 
and vigorously managed, this is the king of business for increasing the wealth, 
the civil strength, and the temporal glory of a people.” Throughout the colonies, 
from “Bostonia” to the “idyllic gardens” of the Carolinas, midlife Glorious 
took pride in their worldly accomplishments. They had reason. Throughout their 
active adulthood, from the 1670s to the 1720s, they presided over colonial 
America’s most robust era of economic growth, a 50 to 100 percent advance in 
living standards by most statistical measures: per capita imports from England, 
number of rooms per home, amount of furniture per family, estate size at death. 
The Glorious succeeded not with Cavalier risk-taking, but rather by establishing 
“orderly” markets, pioneering paper money, and building what they liked to 
call “public works.” They also introduced new types of property rights, such 
as private ownership of communal town land — and of black Africans. When the 
Glorious came of age, a mere 6,000 blacks labored in America, primarily im- 
migrants from other English colonies, many of whom exercised the same rights 
as indentured servants. This generation changed all that. In the 1690s, young 
planters began importing blacks directly from Africa by the thousands. By the 
1700-1710 decade, Glorious-led assemblies were everywhere enacting statutes 
that fixed slavery as a monolithic racial and legal institution. Those few Glorious 
who objected found little support. Samuel Sewall, who wrote The Selling of 
Joseph to keep slaves out of Boston, acknowledged that his opinions elicited 
“frowns and harsh words” from his peers. 

ELDERHOOD: Old age brought mixed blessings to a generation of builders 
and doers. True, the aging Glorious could look back on a lifetime of achievement. 
When they were children, the colonies had been a savage outpost of some 100,000 
subjects, chained to a corrupt kingdom. Now they saw around them a wealthy 
colonial “jewel,” with a population pushing one million, attached to the most 
prestigious empire on earth. They had earned and saved far more during their 
lifetimes than had the Puritans or Cavaliers (“Our fathers,” Colman admitted, 
“were not quite enough men of the world for us”), and rising land prices gave 
them commanding bargaining power over their own land-poor children. Yet in 
their diaries, the elder Glorious complained of physical decline and regretted 
that their secularized religion offered so little solace. Upon death, they staged 
such gaudy last rites for old friends that in the 1720s Massachusetts led several 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


143 


other colonies in enacting laws to “restrain the extraordinary expense at fu- 
nerals.” Most of all, they wondered why the young did not show them the same 
warmth they remembered feeling for their own fathers. Celebrating each other 
with adjectives like “honored” and “ancient,” they withdrew from the hostile 
and increasingly value-laden culture of young Awakeners. In his mid-sixties, 
Cotton Mather criticized the doctrine of spiritual rebirth gaining popularity among 
younger ministers by insisting that “going to heaven in the way of repentance, 
is much safer and surer than going in the way of ecstasy.” But he also warned 
his aging peers: “Our patience will be tried by the contempt. . . among those 
who see we are going out.” 

* * * 

By the end of their lives, the Glorious had overcome every major challenge 
they had faced coming of age. They had taken America, politically, from chaos 
to stability; materially, from poverty to affluence; and culturally, from fanaticism 
to science. From youth through old age, the Glorious knew they were gifted 
achievers — and they let their elders and juniors know it as well. If their Whig- 
and-wig legacy had a dark side, it lay not in deeds left undone, but in too many 
deeds done too well. Their sheer energy often eclipsed all reflection. Right up 
to his death, the tireless Cotton Mather, author of Essays to Do Good , never 
stopped marking “GDs” (for “Good Deeds”) in the margin of his diary. A 
regimented instinct for social discipline limited them to the starkest of meta- 
phors — the ant or bee colony — to describe their ideal society. “All nature is 
industrious and every creature about us diligent in their proper work,” preached 
the sixtyish Colman. “Diligence is the universal example. Look through the 
whole creation, and every part it has a work and service assigned to it.” By old 
age, many Glorious hoped that the two new colleges they had founded — Yale 
and William and Mary — might allow their children to aspire to something higher 
than “diligence.” “Pray God,” sighed the aging “King” Carter, “send the 
next generation that it may flourish under a set of better polished patriots.” The 
colonies did indeed get “polish” — and much else besides. 



144 


GENERATIONS 


ENLIGHTENMENT GENERATION 

Bom: 1674-1700 
Type: Adaptive 

Age Location: 

Glorious Revolution Crisis in youth 
Great Awakening in midlife 

“ ’Tis no small matter for a stripling to appear in a throng of so many learned 
and judicious seers,” announced a William and Mary student to the Virginia 
Assembly in 1699 on behalf of his fledgling college. The next young speaker 
promised that every student would “kindly submit himself to the maternal and 
paternal yoke,” and a third described his peers as the most “docile and tutorable” 
in the world. “O happy Virginia!” he concluded. “Your countenance is all we 
crave.” Careful to avoid a misstep, the ENLIGHTENMENT GENERATION 
came of age eager to mature into the “better-polished generation” the Glorious 
had hoped for. And so they became. Growing up during an era of crisis, they 
witnessed the blood shed by elders on their behalf. Entering adulthood just as 
peace and prosperity dawned, they appreciated their good fortune and did not 
dare risk upsetting the status quo. Yet behind all the nice ornaments they added 
to colonial life — the minuets, carriages, and libraries; the lawsuits, vote counting, 
and purchased pews — lay an inner life of gnawing anxiety. The Enlighteners 
never stopped worrying that their refinement and sensitivity betrayed an absence 
of generational power and vision, that their nibbling reforms amounted to mere 
gesture, and that their leaders tended to defer rather than solve problems. 

Tying together this record of outer polish and inner tension is the Enlighteners’ 
lifecycle, best defined by the cataclysms they just missed coming of age: the 
Glorious Revolution and the Great Awakening. First- wavers arrived too early 
(at age 15-16) to take part in political triumph, while late- wavers arrived too 
late (in their mid- 30s) to take part in spiritual revival. Too early or too late. 
Either way, the absence of coming-of-age catharsis robbed them of a visceral 
peer bond. It made them better mediators for other generations than confident 
leaders of their own — and it impelled them to hunker down early, a caution for 
which they paid by missing (though often seeking) release later on. Reaching 
midlife, when they had finally outgrown the shadow of their elders, Enlighteners 
took more risks in a society bursting open with enterprise and fashion, art and 
wit, social mobility and rising immigration. Yet hardly had they begun to enjoy 
this freshness when they heard younger moralists condemn them for moving in 
the wrong direction. Caught in a generational whipsaw, those who had once 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


145 


defended their civic muscle to elders spent their later years defending their moral 
purity to juniors. For the few Enlighteners who survived (in their eighties) until 
the American Revolution, proving themselves to the young was a rearguard 
battle they rarely won, but never gave up. 

The Enlighteners produced the first American writers and aesthetes to compete 
in erudition with their European peers; the first credentialed professionals in 
science, medicine, religion, and law; the first printers and postal carriers; and 
the first specialist-managers of towns, businesses, and plantations. Yet for all 
their wit and learning, they had one common denominator: a fatal indecisiveness, 
a fear of stepping too far in any direction. In civic life, the strength of the next- 
elder Glorious, Enlighteners specialized in stalemating executive action through 
legislative process. Voicing the consensus of historians, William Pencak notes 
that “between Queen Anne’s and King George’s Wars’’ — precisely when En- 
lighteners began to dominate colonial assemblies — “two styles of politics pre- 
vailed in British North America: paralysis and procrastination.’’ Nor could they 
wholly accept the inner-driven passion of spiritual life, the strength of younger 
Awakeners. “Zeal’’ is “but an erratic fire, that will often lead to bogs and 
precipices,’’ warned Thomas Foxcroft, author of An Essay on Kindness. The 
function of a minister, according to Nathaniel Appleton, was “pointing out those 
middle and peaceable ways, wherein the truth generally lies, and guarding against 
extremes on the right hand and on the left.’’ 

Individual Enlighteners are sometimes referred to as “inheritor’’ or “tran- 
sitional’’ figures. Together, they might also be called America’s first “silent” 
generation. Without question, no other American peer group includes so few 
leaders (James Logan? Cadwallader Colden? Elisha Cooke, Jr.? William Shirley? 
William Byrd II?) whose names Americans still recognize. The same goes for 
their precious squabbles, resembling those of their peers in England — Walpole’s 
vote-jobbing, Pope’s mock epics, Butler’s clockwork universe — full of post- 
heroic affectation, utterly forgotten today. Yet the very mood of anonymous 
stasis the Enlighteners brought to their initial years of power, the 1720s and 
1730s, transformed that era into the Williamsburg prototype of colonial life. No 
other period fits. Earlier, we would have seen hogs instead of coaches on the 
streets of Boston; later, we would have heard fiery sermons about Antichrist 
instead of fulsome odes to a golden age of politeness. During the century and 
a half between Newton and Rousseau, this generation best reflects, at its adult 
apogee, what historians call the Age of Enlightenment, that delicate equipoise 
between certainty and doubt, order and emotion, gentility and candor. “Enlight- 
enment” suggests perfect balance, the lifetime goal of a generation that always 
felt off-balance. It is a name they themselves would have relished. 



ENLIGHTENMENT GENERATION (Bom 1674 to 1700) 


TYPE: Adaptive 


FAMILY TREE 


Total number: 340,000 
Percent immigrant: 34% 
Percent slave: 17% 


SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

1674 William Byrd II (1744) 

1674 James Logan (1751)* 

1676 Alexander Spotswood (1740)* 

1678 Elisha Cooke, Jr. (1737) 

1679 Zabdiel Boylston (1766) 

1685 Daniel Dulany (1753)* 

1686 Andrew Bradford (1742) 

1688 Cadwallader Colden (1776)* 
1690 Thomas Lee (1750) 

1690 Johann Conrad Beissel (1768)* 

1691 Mann Page (1730) 

1693 Nathaniel Appleton (1784) 

1694 William Shirley (1771)* 

1696 Samuel Johnson (1772) 

1696 Sir William Pepperrell (1759) 

1696 Ebenezer Gay (1787) 

1697 Thomas Foxcroft (1769) 

1697 James Franklin (1735) 

1 697 Peter Zenger ( 1 746)* 

1699 John Bartram (1777) 

* = immigrant 


Typical grandparents: Puritan 
Parents: Cavalier and Glorious 
Children: Awakening and Liberty 
Typical grandchildren: Republican 

PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

First and last year of colonial governorship 
and total duration of officeholding 
(permanent immigrants only): 

Massachusetts: 1715-1757, 28 years 
Connecticut: 1741-1769, 28 years 
Rhode Island: 1740-1758, 16 years 
Virginia: 1710-1768, 58 years 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1676 Robert Walpole (1745) 

1685 Bishop George Berkeley (1753) 

1685 George Frederick Handel (1759) 

1694 Voltaire (1778) 

1696 James Edward Oglethorpe (1785) 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

Start of King Philip’s War and Bacon’s Rebellion 
Glorious Revolution and King William’s War (1690-1697) 

Salem witch trials; acceleration of slave imports to South 
Yale College founded (after William and Mary in 1693) 

Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713) ends with Treaty of Utrecht 
James Franklin begins printing New England Courant in Boston 
George Berkeley visits Rhode Island (1728-1731) to public acclaim 
Peak of Great Awakening; founding of separatist churches 
Shirley and Pepperrell capture Louisbourg from French 
French and Indian War (1754-1760) ends with Treaty of Paris 
Stamp Act riots; leading elders plead for conciliation 
Declaration of Independence signed 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: Secret Diary (William Byrd II); The 
Reasonableness of Regular Singing (Thomas Symmes); Ministers Are Men of Like Passions 
with Others (Ebenezer Gay); Cato’s Moral Distiches Englished in Couplets (James Logan); 
God Sometimes Answers (Eliphalet Adams); Flora Virginica (John Clayton); Journal of the 
Siege of Louisbourg (William Shirley) 


Age 

Date 

0 - 1 

1675 

0-15 

1689 

0-18 

1692 

1-27 

1701 

13-39 

1713 

21-47 

1721 

28-54 

1728 

40-66 

1740 

45-71 

1745 

63-89 

1763 

65-91 

1765 

76 + 

1776 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


147 


Enlightener Facts 

• The Enlighteners include the first large population (over 50,000) of African- 

born Americans, about triple the total number of blacks in all previous 
generations combined. Primarily young slaves purchased by elder Glorious 
planters, these Enlighteners were the first of four large generations of Af- 
rican-Americans — extending through the Republicans — transported to 
America on slave ships. 

• The Enlighteners were the least geographically mobile generation in American 

history. Among native-born New Englanders, only 23 percent died more 
than sixteen miles from their birthplace, less than half the share for every 
generation bom before or after. In the southern colonies, they were the first 
landed planters whose marriages and inheritances were dynastically arranged 
by (mostly Glorious) parents. 

• The Enlighteners ran America’s first bar and clerical associations, managed 

America’s first electoral machines (in Boston and Philadelphia), included 
the first significant number of doctors and scientists with European creden- 
tials, and gained more memberships in the prestigious London Royal Society 
than any other colonial generation. 

• Founders of many church- and town-based charities, the Enlighteners were the 

most humanitarian of colonial generations. In the early 1730s, their English 
peer James Oglethorpe colonized Georgia as a haven for imprisoned debtors. 
He financed the venture entirely through private donations. 

• As Anglophile rising adults, Enlighteners brought to America the Queen Anne 

style of dainty china, walnut cabinets, parquet floors, and what they termed 
“comfortable” furniture. They also adopted the new English fad of tea 
drinking, never imagining that their children and grandchildren would some- 
day dump the stuff contemptuously into Boston harbor. 


The Enlightener Lifecycle 

YOUTH: Growing up in the midst of rebellion and war, Enlightener children 
learned to split the universe into two halves. On one side, recalled Samuel 
Johnson, lurked a gallery of “bogeymen” — dark forests filled with Indians, 
armies, and infant-hungry devils. On the other side lay the safety of the family, 
protected by the smothering embrace of midlife Cavaliers like Samuel Willard 
(“If others in a family suffer want, yet the children shall certainly be taken care 
for”) and the confident energy of rising-adult Glorious like Cotton Mather (“re- 



148 


GENERATIONS 


strain your children from bad company. ... You can’t be too careful in these 
matters”). In New England, towns appointed tithingmen “to attend to disorders 
of every kind in the families under their charge” and sent children to “dame 
schools” in nearby households rather than let them risk long walks outdoors. 
In the South, the vast influx of bonded young Africans traumatized youths of 
both races. With the first glimmers of peace at the end of the century, adults 
encouraged children to emulate emerging sex-role divisions. Girls privileged to 
become “virtuous mothers” were tutored in religion, music, and embroidery 
and learned to wear towering “fontanelle” hairstyles. Boys attired in wigs were 
sent to writing schools — or to the new colleges. Yale assured parents that the 
souls of their children were in safekeeping, while the charter of William and 
Mary promised that young gentlemen would be “piously educated in good letters 
and manners.” 

COMING OF AGE: Haunted through youth by fears of “disorder,” En- 
lighteners matured into compliant, immobile, and parent-respecting young adults. 
Seeking approval, their peer elite mastered structured and value-neutral subjects 
like botany (John Bartram), mapmaking (Lewis Evans), medicine (Zabdiel Boyls- 
ton), and especially law (Jeremiah Dummer, Daniel Dulany, and Thomas Lee). 
Such achievements earned them respect more than admiration. By the late 1690s, 
the Glorious began complaining about youthful behavior that failed to meet their 
own super-straight standard at like age. Elders chafed at the snooty English 
mannerisms of youth — from coffeehouse etiquette to ribald verse — and sus- 
pected them of cowardice during Queen Anne’s War (which ended in a stalemate 
in 1711). They fretted over the young generation’s cardplaying, swearing, tav- 
eming, and premarital pregnancy — petty vices indicating post-adolescent tension 
release. Yet if the Cavaliers and Glorious considered them effete, coming-of- 
age Enlighteners felt perfectly justified in bringing a touch of wit and class to 
the dull conformity of post-crisis America. Here a handful of them stood their 
ground. In 1721 , James Franklin set up a Boston newspaper and lampooned the 
fiftyish Cotton Mather (who, notes historian Perry Miller, “appeared, for the 
first time, silly”). In 1723, Yale graduate Samuel Johnson shocked New England 
by announcing his conversion to the Anglican Church. Such tepid, isolated 
gestures amounted to the closest the Enlighteners ever came to generational 
rebellion. 

RISING ADULTHOOD: “The Golden Age succeeds the Iron,” announced 
the Rhode Island Gazette in 1732, celebrating the “erudition and politeness” 
Enlighteners were bringing to colonial “civilization.” Outwardly, these rising 
adults were lucky, setting out in life in a new era of peace and prosperity. 
Seemingly without effort, their well-groomed elite could inherit or marry into 
upwardly mobile lifestyles — as town leaders (now versed in law), as genteel 
planters (now building symmetrical, Williamsburg-style mansions), as colonial 



THE COLONIAL CYCLE 


149 


agents (now riding in coaches), or as managers of trading empires (now familiar 
with luxuries). Inwardly, they compensated for their denied catharsis by ob- 
sessing guiltily over the rococo interior of their lives. “The Grandeur (ah, empty 
grandeur!) of New England,” worried 26-year-old Thomas Paine. “Our apparel, 
how fine and rich! Our furniture and tables, how costly, sumptuous, and dainty!” 
William Byrd II studied the Complete Gentleman to improve on the manly virtue 
of his Glorious father, while hiding his sexual and poetic fantasies in a secret 
coded diary. Attracted to emotional privacy while inheriting a deep trust in 
institutions, Enlighteners gathered in “philosophical” associations, “virtuoso” 
societies, and humanitarian charities. They also embraced a new ethos of profes- 
sionalism and dominated the explosive post- 1720 growth in colonial law. Reach- 
ing office in the 1720s and 1730s, they became what historian Jack Greene has 
labeled “the new political professionals” — and their parliamentary bickering 
marks the dullest pages in colonial history. Compared to the like-aged Glorious, 
rising-adult Enlighteners were more apt to sue than vote, lobby than build, and 
advocate private process rather than collective action. 

MIDLIFE: Enlighteners took a subversive pleasure in the looser and freer 
tone of colonial society in the 1730s. Past age 40, many took risks for the first 
time: speculating in land, launching new businesses, womanizing, poetizing. A 
few dabbled in skeptical philosophy (of Berkeley and Hume) or in mystical 
religion (Zinzendorf ’s Moravian Church). All this nervous joviality came to a 
sudden end around 1740, thanks to the youth-propelled Great Awakening. Mid- 
life Enlighteners had sensed it coming; indeed, their clergymen had long urged 
“refreshed” emotion in church. Yet face to face with unbridled passion, they 
quickly realized how little regard the younger Awakeners showed for the En- 
lighteners’ own strengths — credentials, politeness, pluralism, and deference. 
Condemned by Awakener Jonathan Edwards as “moral neuters,” many sank 
into guilt. “I have studied to preserve a due moderation,” admitted Edward 
Wiggles worth, “and if any expressions have happened to slip from me, that 
may seem a little too warm or harsh, I shall be sorry for it.” While Samuel 
Niles feared “strife and contention” and Benjamin Doolittle warned of “too 
much boldness,” most Enlighteners responded to their next-juniors with a sym- 
pathy, even an envy that revealed their own inner doubts. Nathaniel Appleton, 
said one observer, became “more close and affecting in preaching” after hearing 
the youthful enthusiasts. Admiring the passion of the younger George Whitefield, 
clergyman Samuel Dexter confessed: “ten thousand worlds would I give ... to 
feel and experience what I believe that man does.” 

ELDERHOOD: “I don’t think I know anything,” said the aging Nathaniel 
Chauncy in 1756 after reading a popular book on religion. “Forty years have I 
been studying, and this book has told me more than I have ever known.” Most 
Enlighteners entered old age with a remarkable capacity to rethink narrow child- 



150 


GENERATIONS 


hood prejudices, admit failure, and try again. “The greatest and worst sorts of 
trouble and uneasiness,” lamented Samuel Johnson shortly before his death in 
1772, “are endless doubts, scruples, uncertainties, and perplexities of mind.” 
Superseded as leaders by moralistic midlife Awakeners, many old Enlighteners 
tried, like Johnson, to be “yet further useful” as elders. When the stakes seemed 
limited, they behaved with imitative swagger — like William Shirley and William 
Pepperrell, gung-ho leaders of the colonial crusade against the French in the 
1740s and 1750s. But later, as the stakes grew larger, they usually argued for 
compromise. Daniel Dulany and Thomas Lee supported “polite” and “friendly 
intercourse” with the English, and Ebenezer Gay (in the words of one admirer) 
tried “to point out that there was another side to every controversy. ’ ’ The handful 
who lived to see the outbreak of revolution typically hoped, like Daniel Perkins, 
for “that calmness, dispassionateness, and prudence that may prevent rage and 
acts of violence.” Ultimately, the 79-year-old Perkins was forced by his juniors 
to sign a statement endorsing the American Revolution. Cadwallader Colden, 
New York governor and philosophe , struggled in vain to arrange a compromise 
in 1776. Watching every symbol of his beloved mother country smashed in fury, 
he died that same year, at age 88, not knowing how the crisis would be resolved. 

* * * 

The Enlighteners were the most decent, accommodating, and pluralist — if 
also the most colorless — of colonial generations. Their collective legacy can be 
inferred from their eulogies, which typically reflect a painful struggle for equi- 
librium. Clergyman Thomas Greaves was remembered as “exact, but unaffected 
. . . grave, but not morose”; Nathaniel Appleton as “impartial yet pacific, firm 
yet conciliatory”; William Byrd II as “eminently fitted for the service and 
ornament of his country,” yet “to all this were added a great elegance of taste 
and life.” As mediators between the civic hubris of their elders and the inner 
fire of their juniors, Enlighteners prevented the colonial world from twisting too 
far in either direction. They pioneered “freedom of the press,” used their relative 
affluence to adorn colonial culture, and cultivated a respect for “due process” 
that their grandchildren later incorporated into a national Constitution. Yet for 
all the balance they brought to public life, their own personal lives took them 
on a zigzag path of overcompensation. As rising adults, they knuckled under 
too easily to rulebook conformity. In midlife, dazzled by the younger Awakeners 
and left with anxious memories of their own smothered youth, they veered so 
far toward personal adventure and hands-off parenting that they failed to protect 
an emerging crop of Liberty children. No one called the Enlighteners a great 
generation, but then again they did not try to be. They sought approval from 
others and tried to be helpful in great struggles that — often to their secret frus- 
tration — never seemed to hit them full force. 



Chapter 8 


THE REVOLUTIONARY 

CYCLE 


"O 

may our camp be free from every accursed thing! May our land be 
purged from all its sins! May we be truly a holy people, and all our towns cities 
of righteousness!” Thus did the gray-haired president of Harvard Samuel Lang- 
don lead 1 ,200 soldiers in twilight prayer on the Cambridge Common. Early the 
next morning, on June 17, 1775, William Prescott guided these Patriot troops 
to a rise near Bunker Hill overlooking the British army that occupied Boston. 
Prescott, who would slay redcoats with his sword before the day was over, was 
a gritty Indian-war veteran in his forties. He had little of Langdon’s flair for 
elevated words. “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes,” he advised 
his men, before adding with a smile, “Then aim at their waistbands; and be 
sure to pick off the commanders, known by their handsome coats. ’ ’ The twentyish 
soldiers obediently did as they were told. Seeing the redcoats fall in piles before 
them, they knew they had won not just a battle, but glory in the eyes of all 
posterity. Meanwhile, a young mother led her 8-year-old child “Mr. Johnny” 
(John Quincy Adams) to a nearby hill where he could watch the cannons thunder 
at a safe distance. The stage was set. All four generations of the REVOLU- 
TIONARY CYCLE were present at an epochal moment that signaled the birth 
of a new nation. 

• For Langdon’s AWAKENING GENERATION (Idealist, then age 52 to 74), 
the Battle of Bunker Hill tested a vision that had first inspired them decades 



152 


GENERATIONS 


ago as coming-of-age youngsters. Back then, an upwelling of godly euphoria 
had incited them to rage against their fathers. “Many such instances there 
were of children condemning their parents” and calling them “old hypo- 
crites,” young Charles Chauncy had written of his twenty ish peers in 1743. 
Much later, by the time of the Revolution, that ideal had matured into stem 
principles of civic virtue which leading Awakeners — from Sam Adams to 
Benjamin Franklin — preached entirely to their juniors. It was time for the 
old to think and the young to act. “Love itself is a consuming fire with 
respect to sin,” Joseph Bellamy told the Connecticut volunteers who came 
to Boston. Joseph Hawley likewise inspired the Minutemen under Prescott 
by reminding them of their Puritan ancestors: “You will show by your 
future conduct whether you are worthy to be called offspring of such men.” 
The elder Awakeners had raised these “republican” youth for worldly 
valor — and praised them warmly when they displayed it against General 
Howe. 

• Prescott’s LIBERTY GENERATION (Reactive, age 34 to 51) shrugged off 

this dialogue between next-elders and next-juniors. The Awakeners’ inner 
fire was something they had learned to avoid, something that had scorched 
them once as berated children and again, during the 1750s, as despised foot 
soldiers in a murderous crusade against the French. Colonel Prescott was 
not alone in his wry wit. From George Washington to Daniel Boone, from 
Francis Marion to Benedict Arnold, the French and Indian War had left its 
mark of devilry and cynicism on their entire generation. “Rifleman” Daniel 
Morgan even had the scars of 499 British lashes on his back to prove it. 
(His punishment called for 500, but when the quartermaster miscounted, 
Morgan joked, “I got away with one.”) As for the younger soldiers on 
Bunker Hill, Prescott and his peers did what they could to teach them the 
grim realities of life and war. The Liberty entered the Revolution without 
counting on a good outcome for themselves. No matter which side they 
chose or which side won, these hardbitten peers of John Adams — a gen- 
eration whom historian Cecilia Kenyon has called “men of little faith” — 
fully expected to be blamed. Most of them would indeed reach elderhood 
getting just what they expected: little thanks and precious little reward. 

• For the eager soldiers of the REPUBLICAN GENERATION (Civic, age 

9 to 33), waiting in their trenches for the redcoats to charge, Bunker Hill 
began the most exhilarating rite of passage in American history. “ ’Tis but 
the morning of the world for us,” Princeton student Hugh Henry Brack- 
enridge had announced a year earlier. “Nations shall be taught lessons of 
heroism and grow great by our example,” exulted Israel Evans to his peers 
six years later, after their epic victory at Yorktown. To most elder Liberty 
(like John Adams) the war marked the end of Revolution. But to younger 



FIGURE 8-1 

Revolutionary Cycle: Location in History 


SPIRITUAL SECULAR SPIRITUAL SECULAR 

AWAKENING CRISIS AWAKENING CRISIS 



Great 

Awakening 


American 

Revolution 

Crisis 


Transcendental 

Awakening 


Civil 

War 

Crisis 




THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 



154 


GENERATIONS 


Republicans (like Benjamin Rush) it “was nothing but the first act of a 
great drama” — a drama that would not end until this mighty generation 
had built a new Constitution, acquired vast new territories, and seen (as 
Timothy Dwight once predicted) “Round thy broad fields more glorious 
Romes arise/ With pomp and splendor bright’ning all the skies.” Where 
the elder Awakeners who loved and praised these youngsters had been a 
more godly generation than most, so would the Republicans become more 
worldly than most. Historian Edmund Morgan sums up the contrast: “In 
the 1740s America’s leading intellectuals were clergymen and thought about 
theology; in 1790 they were statesmen and thought about politics.” 

• To John Quincy Adams’ COMPROMISE GENERATION (Adaptive, age 
8 and under) came the frustration of watching the war without fighting it — 
and then growing up realizing that their gigantic next-elders had completed 
all the great deeds just ahead of them. Their own role, they soon discovered, 
was simply to be good and dutiful — and to avoid mistakes. John Quincy 
himself, careful not to disappoint his fussy mother Abigail, graduated from 
college feeling a “useless and disgraceful insignificancy.” The like-aged 
Andrew Jackson later declared that his fellow soldiers must not forget “the 
blessings which the blood of so many thousands of heroes has purchased 
for them.” As a Dartmouth student, Daniel Webster declaimed: “For us 
they fought! For us they bled! For us they conquered!” Webster, only an 
infant when the war ended, would consecrate a Bunker Hill monument 
forty-three years later by acknowledging his generation’s “gratitude” to 
Republican “heroes.” Only as these “heroes” began passing away in the 
1820s would the Compromisers, now reaching midlife, emerge from their 
elders’ intimidating shadow. By then, Webster’s peers would have to turn 
their attention in a new direction — this time toward a loud younger gen- 
eration just coming of age. 

Bunker Hill was the first full-scale battle in a crisis whose origins stretch 
back decades, to the very beginning of the Revolutionary Cycle. The cycle began 
with the soul-shattering conversions that greeted Jonathan Edwards’ Northampton 
sermons in 1734, the first genuine thunder of the eighteenth-century “Great 
Awakening.” It reached forward through the French and Indian War, the Rev- 
olutionary War, the Constitutional Convention, and the War of 1812, and closed 
with James Monroe’s outwardly calm but inwardly turbulent “Era of Good 
Feeling” in the mid- 1820s. This cycle left behind a shining legacy of nation- 
building that Americans will always cherish. But having solved so many prob- 
lems, these four generations could hardly help allowing others to fester. Most 
notably, they failed to act on the issue of southern slavery, an omission which 
would figure fatefully in the next awakening — and in the next crisis. 

The Revolutionary Cycle contained two social moments: 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


155 


• The Great Awakening (1734-1743) began as a series of isolated spiritual re- 

vivals in the Connecticut Valley. It spread quickly, especially in the northern 
and middle colonies, and reached a peak in 1741 during the rousing Amer- 
ican tour of the English-born evangelist George Whitefield. After mass 
gatherings and “concerts of prayer” in the early 1740s, the fervor receded 
in most areas — but not without reshaping the temperament of most rising 
adults who had lived through it. They would later reach midlife setting a 
tone of spirituality and public principle utterly unknown during their fathers’ 
“Glacial Age of Religion.” AGE LOCATION : Glorious in elderhood; En- 
lighteners in midlife; Awakeners in rising adulthood; Liberty in youth . 

• The American Revolution Crisis (1773-1789), broadly defined, stretched from 

the Boston Tea Party through the ratification of the Constitution and the 
swearing-in of the first President and Congress in 1789. Amid all the brave 
moments, especially that dark Valley Forge winter of 1778, lurked the very 
real fear that these “rebels” might fail and that the leaders of the Continental 
Congress would be hanged as traitors. The crisis ended with the ratification 
of the new Constitution and the inauguration of President George Wash- 
ington and Vice President John Adams. Over the next twelve years, Wash- 
ington and Adams steered the infant nation with protective caution while 
watching a younger, more optimistic cadre of veterans rise to power and 
plan for the Republic’s glorious future. AGE LOCATION : Awakeners in 
elderhood; Liberty in midlife; Republicans in rising adulthood; Compro- 
misers in youth. 



156 


GENERATIONS 


AWAKENING GENERATION 

Bom: 1701-1723 
Type: Idealist 

Age Location: 

Great Awakening in rising adulthood 
American Revolution Crisis in elderhood 

“You would be apt to think him a madman just broke from his chains, but 
especially had you seen him . . . with a large mob at his heels, singing all the 
way through the streets, he with his hands extended, his head thrown back, and 
his eyes staring up to heaven,” reported the Boston Evening Post in 1741 of 
James Davenport. During a tour of New England, this 25-year-old messiah was 
“attended with so much disorder” that his followers “looked more like a com- 
pany of Bacchanalians after a mad frolic, than sober Christians who had been 
worshipping God.” For colonial newspapers, the frenzy marked yet one more 
riotous episode in America’s “Great and General Awakening.” For hundreds 
of radical preachers like Davenport — and for the young crowds smitten by their 
prophetic thunder — it was a coming-of-age moment for the AWAKENING GEN- 
ERATION. The moment brought truth, euphoria, and millennial vision to Amer- 
ica. It also brought hysteria, shattered families, and split towns. What did it feel 
like to be there? Writing in 1742, an elder Salem minister declared: “It is 
impossible to relate the convulsions into which the country is thrown.” Writing 
in the 1970s, historian Richard Bushman likened the fervor to “the civil rights 
demonstrations, the campus disturbances, and the urban riots of the 1960s com- 
bined ... a psychological earthquake that reshaped the human landscape.” 

The Awakener lifecycle reads like a prophecy: at first straining to see God 
through a glass darkly and at last breaking through to a purifying fire. Bom into 
secure and slowly loosening families, Awakener children grew up seeking, but 
not finding, spiritual comfort in the secular world of Glorious midlifers. Coming 
of age, they discovered it — inside themselves. In a burst of passion, these 
converts to a “religion of the heart” shattered the ossified social discipline of 
their fathers. When the Great Awakening expired in mid- 1740s, rising Awakeners 
drifted off into quieter avenues of self-perfection and paid little attention to the 
worldly troubles enveloping the colonies. Only later, as they entered midlife 
worrying about the dissolute younger Liberty, did Awakeners find a substitute 
for the old order they had wrecked. Theirs was an entirely new vision — of an 
America destined by Providence to play a millennial role in the salvation of the 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


157 


world. It would be a land where all souls stood on an equal footing, where social 
union depended on principle rather than convenience, where education aimed at 
virtue rather than utility, where grace and union took precedence over laws and 
rights. The Awakeners championed this spiritual agenda so persuasively that on 
the threshold of old age, they presided over a society of patriots ready to die 
for independence. 

Any roster of famous Awakeners is top-heavy with moral prophets: “sons of 
thunder” like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and William Tennent, 
tearing down the “do-good” orthodoxy of their elders; flinty rationalists like 
Jonathan May hew and Charles Chauncy, insisting from their pulpits that death 
was preferable to the “slavery” and “corruption” of England; missionary ed- 
ucators like Eleazar Wheelock, John Witherspoon, and Anthony Benezet (who, 
according to one observer, “carried his love of humanity to the point of mad- 
ness”); radical slavery-abolitionists like “Visions of Hell” Jacob Green and 
John Woolman (clad in white as Jesus Christ). The same image fits the best- 
known Awakener patriarchs who later stewarded the American Revolution: Sam- 
uel Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Still radical, still cerebral. In Boston, the 
austere Adams was said by one biographer to “preach hate to a degree without 
rival” in quest of his “Christian Sparta.” In Philadelphia, Franklin believed so 
fervently in higher causes that he abandoned a prospering printing business in 
his mid-forties to devote his life to reflection and moral uplift. Careless of 
orthodox religion, Franklin left his soul to the evangelical prayers of his good 
friend Whitefield. But years earlier, at age 16, Franklin wrote in his diary that 
he “conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection” and 
concluded it with the self-aimed injunction to “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.” 

The “Puritan” label has always come easily to this generation. Contempo- 
raries called Samuel Adams “the last of the Puritans,” Roger Sherman “an old 
Puritan,” Edwards a “Puritan” Calvinist. Even the arch-Tory Thomas Hutch- 
inson has been described by his biographer as a “neo-Puritan ascetic.” Like the 
Puritans, the Awakeners refused to compromise over principle or separate politics 
from religion. Mayhew said he had a duty to “preach politics.” Patriot leader 
Joseph Hawley announced himself an “enthusiast in politics.” Hebrew scholar 
and Patriot governor Jonathan Trumbull sprinkled his war correspondence with 
the phrase “The Lord Reigneth.” In exile, Peter Oliver blamed the Revolution 
on what he called America’s “black regiment.” By that he meant old Awakeners 
preaching upheaval in their churches — ministers like 72-year-old Samuel Dun- 
bar, who read the entire Declaration of Independence from his pulpit. Not all 
elderly Awakeners, of course, became Patriots during the Revolution. Some 
became Tories and sailed away to pass their twilight years in Canada or England. 
But few Tory Awakeners ever felt much affinity with their generation, even 
decades before the Revolution; virtually none had shared their peers’ euphoria 
during the Great Awakening. The Tory Awakener was a self-confessed outcast, 



AWAKENING GENERATION (Bom 1701 to 1723) 


TYPE: Idealist 


FAMILY TREE 


Total number: 550,000 
Percent immigrant: 19% 

Percent slave: 18% 

SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

1703 Jonathan Edwards (1758) 
1703 Gilbert Tennent (1764)* 
1706 Benjamin Franklin (1790) 
1710 Jonathan Trumbull (1785) 

1710 Richard Bland (1776) 

1711 Thomas Hutchinson (1780) 
1711 Jupiter Hammon (c. 1800) 

1713 Anthony Benezet (1784)* 

1714 George Whitefield (1770)* 
1720 John Woolman (1772) 

1720 Pontiac (1769) 

1721 Peyton Randolph (1775) 
1721 Roger Sherman (1793) 

1721 Samuel Hopkins (1803) 
c. 1722 Eliza Pinckney (1793) 

1722 Samuel Adams (1803) 

1723 William Livingston (1790) 
1723 Crispus Attucks (1770) 
1723 Samson Occom (1792) 
1723 John Witherspoon (1794)* 

* = immigrant 


Typical grandparents: Cavalier 
Parents: Glorious and Enlightenment 
Children: Liberty and Republican 
Typical grandchildren: Compromiser 

PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

First and last year of colonial governorship 
and total duration of officeholding 
(permanent immigrants only): 

Massachusetts: 1760-1774, 14 years 
Connecticut: 1769-1776, 7 years 
Rhode Island: 1755-1776, 17 years 
Virginia: 1750-1776, 13 years 

Presidency of Continental Congress: 1 774— 
1775, 1781-1782 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1703 John Wesley (1791) 

1707 Henry Fielding (1754) 

1712 Jean Jacques Rousseau (1778) 

1712 Frederick the Great (1786) 

1717 Maria Theresa (1780) 


Age 

Date 

0-12 

1713: 

0-19 

1720 

11-33 

1734 

17-39 

1740 

31-53 

1754 

42-64 

1765 

50-72 

1773 

52-74 

1775 

60-82 

1783 

64-86 

1787 

67-89 

1790 

70-92 

1793 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

Treaty of Utrecht; longest peace in colonial era begins 
Appearance of grand Georgian buildings; growing household opulence 
First outbreak of youth conversions in Connecticut River Valley 
Peak of Great Awakening; many slaves convert to Christianity 
Albany Congress adopts Franklin’s “Plan of Union” 

Stamp Act riots; leading midlifers preach civic revival 

Adams and Molineux organize Boston Tea Party 

Continental Congress proclaims Thanksgiving Day prayer and fasting 

Slave ownership abolished in most northern states 

Franklin, Sherman, and Livingston attend Constitutional Convention 

Franklin dies, huge funeral in Philadelphia, eulogies in France 

Samuel Hopkins publishes Doctrines Contained in Divine Revelation 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: Autobiography, Poor Richard’s Almanac 
(Benjamin Franklin); Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (Jonathan Edwards); Spiritual 
Travels of Nathan Cole (Nathan Cole); Christian Sobriety (Jonathan Mayhew); The Danger of 
an Unconverted Ministry (Gilbert Tennent); Christ Triumphing and Satan Raging (Samuel 
Finley); Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes (John Woolman); The Duty of Self 
Examination (Roger Sherman) 




THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


159 


bewildered by what the exiled Samuel Curwen termed the “imprudence . . . even 
madness” of his peers. “I must own I was bom among the saints and rebels,” 
explained New York Tory Samuel Auchmuty just before his death in 1777, “but 
it was my misfortune.” 


Awakener Facts 

• The Great Awakening has been credited with 250 new churches and 200,000 

religious conversions, “chiefly” or “especially” (according to contem- 
porary observers) the work of “young people.” Among Presbyterians in 
1740, “New Side” revivalists averaged 25 years of age; defenders of the 
“Old Side” orthodoxy averaged 59 years of age. From 1730 to 1745, the 
average age of joining a New England church plummeted from the late 
thirties to the mid-twenties, and the share of new church members joining 
before age thirty rose from one-fifth to two-thirds. 

• More American colonists graduated from Harvard in the 1730s (nearly all of 

them twentyish Awakeners) than in any other decade until the 1760s. The 
colonists published more books on the Antichrist and Last Judgment during 
the 1750s (written mostly by Awakeners entering midlife) than in any other 
decade before the Revolution. Awakeners Jupiter Hammon and Samson 
Occom were the first black and Indian, respectively, to write for publication 
in America. 

• Awakener women assumed positions of visibility unprecedented in colonial 

society: religious leaders (like Sarah Osborn in Rhode Island), Indian mis- 
sionaries (like the Moravian “single sisters” in Pennsylvania), and planters 
(like Eliza Pinckney, who ran three plantations in South Carolina and be- 
came the first American to cultivate indigo). 

• Awakeners entering elderhood were America’s leaders of choice at the outset 

of the American Revolution. From 1774 to 1776, the average age of of- 
ficeholding in New England towns rose from the low forties to the low 
fifties. In 1776, eleven of the thirteen new “states” were in effect led by 
Awakeners. In five colonies, the Revolution threw out younger (Liberty) 
Tories and replaced them with elder (Awakener) Patriots. Awakeners Peyton 
Randolph and Henry Middleton were the first two presidents of the Con- 
tinental Congress. 

• Awakener clergyman John Witherspoon, president of the recently founded 

Princeton College for twenty-six years, was the beloved schoolmaster to an 
entire generation of rational Republican statesmen (including Madison, 
Burr, Marshall, ten future cabinet leaders, and sixty future members of 
Congress). 



160 


GENERATIONS 


The Awake ner Lifecycle 

YOUTH: Raised in secure communities and largely spared from war or 
violence, Americans bom after 1700 grew up as the best- fed, best-housed, and 
best-educated generation of children their elders had ever seen. At home, these 
kids listened to the happy discipline of A Family Well Ordered , in which Cotton 
Mather taught that “our submission to the rules of reason is an obedience to 
God.” In school, their standardized New England Primer drummed the same 
message with the “Dutiful Child’s Prayer.” Yet soon these children began 
turning away from their distant, busy fathers — and toward their mothers, whom 
the Glorious had entrusted with piety and emotion. Many Awakeners later vowed 
with George White field “to make good my mother’s expectations” or chose 
with Samuel Adams to abandon worldly careers to please their mothers’ “reli- 
gious principles.” A striking number (including Benjamin Franklin, Richard 
Bland, and Roger Sherman) became bookish loners. Others were hit by dreamlike 
visions. Young Jonathan Edwards walked off to “solitary places, for meditation” 
where he could reflect on “the divine glory in almost everything.” Young John 
Woolman imagined “past ages” in which people “walked in uprightness before 
God in a degree exceeding any that I knew, or heard of, now living.” By the 
1720s and 1730s, teenagers began crowding into colleges seeking spiritual call- 
ings or sparking town riots against such perceived agents of immorality as 
brothels, market houses, smallpox inoculators, and immigrants. The Boston press 
in 1734 called them “a new sort of reformers, vulgarly called the mob.” Ac- 
cording to historian Gary Nash, these youths were “antirational, antiscientific 
. . .and moralistic” — rejecting the secular world their Glorious fathers were 
about to hand them. 

COMING OF AGE: With the Great Awakening, the raging inner life of 
these indulged young Americans exploded in a spiritual firestorm. In 1734, wrote 
Edwards, the firestorm first struck his own town like “a flash of lightning upon 
the hearts of the young people.” By the late 1730s and early 1740s, it had spread 
through most of the colonies. In colleges, young Awakeners banded together in 
clubs of “saints”; from pulpits, they fulminated against the “spirit-dead”; in 
open-air gatherings, they exhorted each other to leave their parents, if necessary, 
to join Christ. Where the like-aged Glorious had once stressed cheerful teamwork, 
young Awakeners preached spiritual perfection, demanding “New Light” faith 
over “Old Light” works, mixing “kisses of charity” with what Charles Chauncy 
called “a censuring and judging spirit.” Denouncing elders who kept “driving, 
driving to duty, duty!” Gilbert Tennent assaulted “those of another generation” 
who “imagine happiness is to be had in wealth and riches.” As for the pliable 
Enlighteners, Samuel Finley roared: “Away with your carnal prudence!” When 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


161 


the enthusiasm faded in the mid- 1740s, the orthodoxy mounted a reaction that 
expelled many students from college and punished with special vengeance Awak- 
ener slaves who had staged rebellions during the frenzy. Inwardly, however, the 
young knew their triumph was complete. Americans of all ages would never 
again preach or pray or feel as they had before. And for most Awakeners 
themselves, a special memory would linger — of that day or week or season when 
they had created a spiritual community. Many, like Edwards, declared that 
America in 1740 was inaugurating the reign of God on earth, a “New Jerusalem 
. . . begun to come down from heaven.” Decades later, Franklin would fondly 
recall Philadelphia in that same year: “It was wonderful to see the change. . . . 
It seemed as if all the world were growing religious.” 

RISING ADULTHOOD: After their explosion of self-discovery, thirtyish 
Awakeners entered adulthood with a mixture of outer detachment and inner 
principle. In Boston, Samuel Adams drifted through menial jobs (“I glory in 
being what the world calls a poor man”). In New York, William Livingston 
dabbled in law and wrote best-selling poems like Philosophic Solitude. In Vir- 
ginia, Landon Carter saw fit “to cultivate the inward man.” Meanwhile, young 
spiritual prophets hit the road — converting Indians, denouncing slavery, gath- 
ering separatist churches, and founding communes. Rising Awakeners made 
poor citizens. Most avoided voting or running for office, and many left home 
at an early age to join newer, younger towns. In effect, they reversed their 
parents’ lifecycle: Values first, they insisted, then worldly things. “What can 
all the world afford us,” asked Ebenezer Pemberton, “beyond a competent 
supply of our bodily wants?” Young men understood that born-again innocence 
(becoming “again like a child,” to use Edwards’ phrase) meant rejecting their 
fathers’ interest in prestige and power. Young women likewise understood that 
they need not become one of Mather’s “hidden ones.” Although Awakeners 
recognized America’s growing military and economic problems, they were ob- 
sessed primarily with moral dramas. Frontier preachers like Samuel Finley saw 
the French and Indian War as a replay of Armageddon, Virginia reformers like 
Bland attacked “the least flaw” in colonial rights, and rising Pennsylvania 
Quakers resigned en masse from public office in the late 1750s rather than 
compromise their pacifism by fighting Indians. “If the potsherds of the earth 
clash together,” said Samuel Fothergill on behalf of his scrupulous peers, “let 
them clash.” 

MIDLIFE: “Let sin be slain!” boomed theologian Joseph Bellamy in 1762 
as he addressed his late-fortyish peers in the Connecticut assembly while decrying 
the “luxury, idleness, debauchery” of the rising generation. Entering midlife, 
Awakeners at last began turning their principles toward the outer world. In the 
early 1760s, far from delighting in the victorious end of the French and Indian 
War, they expressed horror over America’s growing moral decadence, especially 



162 


GENERATIONS 


the “gangrene” and “vice” of the wild young Liberty. In 1765, they responded 
to Britain’s Stamp Act by organizing popular crusades of economic austerity 
and breast-beating virtue. As assembly leaders, they founded Committees of 
Correspondence to bind America into what May hew termed a “communion of 
colonies.” As town leaders and educators, they sparked what historian Michael 
Kammen calls “an awakening of civic consciousness” — a new passion for 
public-spirited clubs and colleges. As printers, they used Franklin’s “Join or 
Die” slogan to roar out the rhetoric of unity. As popular leaders, they led the 
Boston Massacre (Crispus Attucks) and the Boston Tea Party (Samuel Adams, 
William Molineux). Watching colonial resistance to Britain quicken toward the 
point of no return, Awakeners never lost sight of the moral issue. John With- 
erspoon, president of Princeton College, vowed “to prefer war with all its 
horrors, and even extermination, to slavery. ’ ’ Clergyman Jonathan Parsons prom- 
ised that if the British did not relent, “the spirit of Christian benevolence would 
animate us to fill our streets with blood.” In 1774, to the thunderous applause 
of the First Continental Congress, Joseph Hawley proclaimed, “It is evil against 
right.” 

ELDERHOOD: “We shall succeed if we are virtuous,” Samuel Adams 
insisted. “Iam infinitely more apprehensive of the contagion of vice than the 
power of all other enemies.” As generals or administrators, aging Awakeners 
had little talent. But as inner-driven chieftains of virtue and wisdom (“Let us 
act like . . . wise men,” said Adams in 1772), Americans of all ages preferred 
them to younger men during the moment of trial. Their moralistic leadership 
dominated the initial revolutionary movement. In the Continental Congress, old 
Awakeners enacted blue laws to make “true religion and good morals” the 
national credo. In local Patriot committees, they led the ideological radicals — 
insisting on unanimous votes, requiring Tories to “confess” to their conversion, 
or invoking (like the sixtyish Bellamy) the “Curse of Meroz” against cowardice. 
During the war, they relinquished political power to make room for the much- 
younger Republicans whom they trusted and loved. But even in the 1780s and 
1790s, elderly Awakeners retained a voice of authority, a voice the young took 
seriously. Many of their political leaders favored a new Constitution that would 
empower the rising Republican elite, and many of their clergymen continued to 
agitate against the “sin of slavery,” forcing the legal or de facto emancipation 
of northern slaves by the end of the century. Facing death, the Awakener instinct 
was not to reach back for the world, but to transcend it — writing about the Last 
Judgment (Sherman), philosophizing in salons (Franklin), or requesting no show 
of mourning at their funerals (Samuel Mather, Cotton’s son). Samuel Adams, 
still penniless in his eighties, insisted that a man certain of his own virtue always 
dies “with dignity.” Claimed the elderly Landon Carter (“King” Carter’s son) 
just before his death, “In spite of my merits, I have only inward satisfaction.” 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


163 


* * * 

The Awakeners may be America’s least understood and most underestimated 
generation. Historians agree that the spiritual fury of the Great Awakening fed 
directly, decades later, into the political fury of the American Revolution. Ac- 
cording to Nathan Hatch, “few would doubt that the piety of the Awakening 
was the main source of the civil millennialism of the Revolutionary period.” 
“What the colonists awakened to in 1740,” agrees Alan Heimert, “was none 
other than independence and rebellion.” Yet no historian has left us with a clear 
picture of the single peer group whose adult lives bridged both events. Above 
all, this was a generation of crusaders: the first young zealots since the Puritans 
to rebel against their fathers; and the last elder moralists until the Transcendentals 
to urge political independence and demand freedom for slaves. Shortly before 
his death in 1790, 84- year-old Benjamin Franklin signed a memorial to Congress 
for the abolition of slavery. Three years earlier, he had been one of four Awak- 
eners to sign the Constitution. Fourteen years earlier, he had been one of eleven 
Awakeners to sign the Declaration of Independence. A half century earlier, 
Jonathan Edwards (bom only three years before Franklin) had predicted that the 
millennium would begin in America and make the world “a kingdom of holiness, 
purity, love, peace, and happiness to mankind.” Although Edwards never lived 
to see the Revolution, Franklin had their common generation in mind when he 
was asked what image should adorn the national seal of the United States. With 
little hesitation, he answered: the fatherly image of Moses, hands extended to 
heaven, parting the waters for his people. 



164 


GENERATIONS 


LIBERTY GENERATION 

Bom: 1724-1741 
Type: Reactive 

Age Location: 

Great Awakening in youth 
American Revolution Crisis in midlife 

He became a daredevil colonel of the Virginia militia at age 22, and when 
he first heard “bullets whistle,” he found “something charming in the sound.” 
He read little, never prayed to God, and meted out brutal discipline to his own 
like-aged soldiers. George Washington was not alone. In 1758, while this young 
Virginian begged his superiors to rank him above “the common run of provincial 
officers,” most of his LIBERTY GENERATION peers were coming of age with 
similar pluck and ambition. Daniel Boone (age 24) was checking out land bar- 
gains along the Alleghenies. John Adams (age 23) was studying hard in Boston 
while daydreaming about “fame, fortune, and personal pleasure.” Isaac Sears 
(age 28) was captaining an eighteen-gun privateer in search of French merchant 
prey. Robert Morris (age 24) was angling to make a fortune selling war supplies. 
The Liberty yearned to join the worthy causes led by their elders, holy reform 
and the war for empire. But they soon learned that their elders did not like them. 
Not the British officers: General James Wolfe blasted them as “the dirtiest, most 
contemptible, cowardly dogs that you can conceive.” Nor the Awakeners: God 
bless “the small number of saints that appear among us,” prayed an older 
chaplain who accompanied them into battle. So, instead, the Liberty punched 
and tricked their way into adulthood — resenting their elders, hating themselves 
for their own wickedness, and doing everything by extremes. 

Their lifecycle drove many of them to the brink of madness. Raised in an 
era of spiritual upheaval and economic dislocation, Liberty children hardly knew 
the care and protection of close family life. First- wavers arrived too late to share 
in their elders’ inner euphoria, last-wavers too early to feel the sympathetic 
nurture that welcomed a younger generation in the late 1750s. Still in their teens, 
the Liberty rushed from their homes — just in time to bear the full brunt of the 
French and Indian War, the colonies’ last and largest imperial struggle. Here 
they tasted bitterness and death, and learned a brutal coming-of-age lesson: Get 
what you can grab, keep what’s yours, and never trust authority. Until their 
mid-forties, they cut an unparalleled swath of crime, riot, and violence through 
American history. Whatever the mob — Vermont’s “Green Mountain Boys” or 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


165 


Pennsylvania’s “Paxton Boys” or New York’s “Liberty Boys” — the Liberty 
“acted where others talked” (as one historian says of Sears). Whatever their 
army — whether led by “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion or “Game Cock” Robert 
Sumter or “Rifleman” Daniel Morgan — they always performed best as plucky 
warrior bands. Hit by the Revolution just as they were entering midlife, the 
Liberty responded with characteristic frenzy. They mixed heroism with treachery, 
scrapped with each other, and ended up distrusted by everybody. No other 
generation so eagerly risked their lives for the Declaration of Independence. Nor 
did any other “turn Tory” in such massive numbers. 

The Liberty knew they were a black sheep among generations. When young, 
they felt the horrified dismay of elders who saw in them so few principles and 
so much cynicism. “That such a monster should come from my loins!” declared 
Landon Carter of his profligate gambler son Robert (“Wild Bob”) Wormeley. 
“Nothing has ever hurt me so much,” cried Benjamin Franklin of his Tory son 
William, “a man of deep deceit and light vanity” whom he later disinherited. 
Thereafter, a sense of inner worthlessness haunted them. “We are a crooked 
and perverse generation,” lamented Josiah Bartlett to the Continental Congress, 
“longing for the fineries and follies of those Egyptian task masters from whom 
we have so lately freed ourselves.” John Adams confessed on the eve of war: 
“We have not men fit for the times. We are deficient in genius, in education, 
in travel, in fortune — in everything. I feel unutterable anxiety.” In midlife, most 
Liberty deferred thanklessly to their gifted and confident juniors. General Wash- 
ington trusted his youthful Republican aides far more than his own peers. “I 
am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular,” admitted John Adams to Thomas 
Jefferson before agreeing to let this younger man draft the Declaration of In- 
dependence because “you write ten times better than I do.” Still suffering the 
early scars of alienation, the Liberty aged into pessimistic “fogies” and “cod- 
gers” — epithets that gained their scornful meaning just when this generation 
was entering elderhood. Later in life, Washington wondered if the republic would 
outlive him; Adams suspected an American monarchy might better suit the “self- 
seeking” darkness of the human heart. 

“Give me liberty or give me death!” roared 39-year-old Patrick Henry in 
1775, invoking the one word that always intoxicated his generation, from a 
castaway childhood to a leave-me-alone old age. When Henry’s peers sang, they 
sang the name: The American Liberty Song by John Dickinson, The Massachu- 
setts Song of Liberty by Mercy Warren, and My Days Have Been So Wondrous 
Free by Francis Hopkinson. When they acted, they acted in the name, organizing 
as “Sons of Liberty,” planting Liberty trees, and parading around “Liberty” 
poles. Where Awakener elders preached “Unite or Die!” this generation had a 
more anarchic battle cry: “Don’t Tread on Me!” or simply “Liberty or Die!” — 
the motto emblazoned on the shirts of Morgan’s riflemen. They came to be 
known (and remembered) as “Yankees,” a derisive nickname for young Amer- 



LIBERTY GENERATION (Bom 1724 to 1741) 


TYPE: Reactive 


FAMILY TREE 


Total number: 1,100,000 
Percent immigrant: 24% 

Percent slave: 19% 

SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

1725 James Otis (1783) 

1725 George Mason (1792) 

1727 Ezra Stiles (1795), 

1728 Mercy Warren (1814) 

1731 Robert Rogers (1795) 

1731 Martha Washington (1802) 

1732 Francis Marion (1795) 

1732 John Dickinson (1808) 

1734 Daniel Boone (1820) 

1734 Robert Morris (1806)* 

1735 Paul Revere (1818) 

1736 Patrick Henry (1799) 

1737 John Hancock (1793) 

1737 Thomas Paine (1809)* 

1737 Charles Carroll (1832) 

1737 Francis Hopkinson (1791) 

1738 Benjamin West (1820) 

1738 Ethan Allen (1789) 

1739 George Clinton (1812) 

1741 Benedict Arnold (1801) 

* = immigrant 


Typical grandparents: Glorious 
Parents: Enlightenment and Awakening 
Children: Republican and Compromiser 
Typical grandchildren: Transcendental 

PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

Plurality in House: — 

Plurality in Senate: — 

Majority of Supreme Court: — 

U.S. PRESIDENTS: 1789-1801 

1732 George Washington (1799) 

1735 John Adams (1826) 

Presidency of Continental Congress: 1775— 
1778, 1779-1781, 1782-1783, 1784-1788 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1727 John Wilkes (1797) 

1729 Edmund Burke (1797) 

1729 Catherine the Great (1796) 

1735 Saint-Jean de Crevecoeur (1813) 

1738 George III (1820) 


Age 

Date 

0-11 

1735 

4-21 

1745 

6-23 

1747 

15-32 

1756 

22-39 

1763 

24-41 

1765 

34-51 

1775 

35-52 

1776 

40-57 

1781 

46-63 

1787 

55-72 

1796 

59-76 

1800 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

Ten-year diphtheria epidemic begins in northern colonies 
Halloween violence worsens; half of militia die at Louisbourg 
“Knowles Riot,’’ worst in Boston’s history 
French and Indian War declared; “privateering madness’’ in ports 
Pontiac uprising; George III bans trans- Appalachian settlements 
England imposes Stamp Act; rising adults organize “Liberty” mobs 
Patrick Henry’s speech; Paul Revere’s ride; Battle of Bunker Hill 
Paine publishes Common Sense ; Declaration of Independence signed 
Washington defeats Cornwallis at Yorktown; fighting stops 
Shays’ Rebellion crushed; George Clinton opposes new Constitution 
Washington refuses to run for third term, gives “Farewell Address” 
Nation mourns Washington’s death; Adams fails to win reelection 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: Battle of the Kegs (Francis Hopkinson); Pontiac; or 
the Savages of America (Robert Rogers); Death of Wolfe (painting, Benjamin West); The 
Rights of the British Colonies (James Otis); Letters from a Farmer (John Dickinson); 
Novanglus papers (John Adams); Common Sense, The Rights of Man (Thomas Paine); Fairfax 
Resolves, Virginia Declaration of Rights (George Mason); Farewell Address (George 
Washington) 




THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


167 


icans that first became popular in the 1760s. A “Yankee” was a hick or fop, 
and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” a scornful British song about idiotic provincials. 
True to form, the Liberty adopted both the name and song as their own — sticking 
“a feather in their caps” (or a twig or piece of cloth) to identify themselves in 
battle and announce to the world that, yes, we are bastards and scoundrels. Leave 
martyrdom for the Awakeners. For the Liberty, there was no transcendence. It 
was victory or suicide. Either way, they heaped upon themselves the guilt of 
rebellion and left their own children to start fresh. 


Liberty Facts 

• During the late 1730s and early 1740s, while parents were preoccupied with 

the Great Awakening, Liberty children were victimized by the deadliest 
child-only epidemic in American history, the “great throat distemper” 
(diphtheria), which killed an estimated one child in fifteen throughout most 
of New York and New England. 

• The Liberty were by far the most war-ravaged generation of the colonial 

era. Describing casualties during the French and Indian War, historian Gary 
Nash estimates that by 1760, “Boston had experienced the equivalent of two 
twentieth-century world wars in one generation.” One-third of all Liberty 
men in Massachusetts enlisted for at least one season between 1754 and 
1759. Stockade and ship records indicate that disease and bad nutrition 
killed an estimated 5 to 10 percent of all recruits during each year of service. 

• Having grown up during an era of falling rum prices and rising public disorder, 

the Liberty matured into a notorious generation of drinkers, thieves, and 
rioters — to the dismay of elder Awakener moralists. The Liberty consumed 
more alcohol per capita than any other colonial generation. Between 1760 
and 1775, they led more violent mobs than the cumulative total for all prior 
generations. They coined both the words “regulator” (for vigilante) and 
“lynch” (after the Liberty Virginian Colonel Charles Lynch). 

• The Liberty accounted for the largest wave of colonial immigration — most 

notably the poor, fierce (and anti-English) Scots-Irish, who typically dis- 
embarked in Philadelphia and then sped south, west, and north to the 
frontier. 

• Though comprising only half of all members to the Continental Congress, the 

Liberty accounted for all five delegates accused of complicity with the 
British; the two most famous military traitors (Benedict Arnold and Ben- 
jamin Church); the most famous near-traitors (including Ethan Allen, who 
secretly considered selling Vermont to the British); and the most notorious 
Tory writers (from Hugh Gaine to Samuel Seabury). 



168 


GENERATIONS 


• The Liberty included nearly two-thirds (thirty-five of fifty-six) of the signers 

of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Eleven years later, they in- 
cluded only one-third of the signers of the U.S. Constitution. In fact, a list 
of leading “Anti-Federalist” opponents of the Constitution in 1788 reads 
like a Liberty Who’s Who: Patrick Henry, George Mason, Richard Henry 
Lee, George Clinton, Mercy Warren, John Lamb, David Rittenhouse, and 
Herman Husbands (average age, 57). 

• During the 1780s, midlife Liberty leaders were statistically more likely to be 

what historian Jackson Turner Main defines as political “localists” (less 
educated and more suspicious of ideas and large institutions) than either 
their juniors or their elders. 


The Liberty Lifecycle 

YOUTH: During the 1730s and 1740s, while William Hogarth drew pictures 
of abused London waifs, the thawing trend in American child-rearing approached 
wholesale neglect. Colonial newspapers noted the rising number of children 
abandoned as “bastards,” turned over to wetnurses, fed liquor to shut them up, 
or just left free to run around on their own. For most first- wave Liberty kids, 
the new nurturing style reflected the midlife Enlightener dash toward personal 
autonomy. “We should think of little children to be persons,” insisted the 
pedagogue Samuel Johnson. For most last- wavers, watching young Awakener 
parents grope for holiness and rage against authority, childhood was an awkward 
by-product of the Great Awakening. The specter of adults crying out in church, 
noted Awakener Charles Chauncy, “frequently frights the little children, and 
sets them screaming.” First wave or last, Liberty kids quickly learned that self- 
immersed adults at best ignored them, and at worst reviled their streetwise 
realism. Jonathan Edwards warned them that children “out of Christ” are “young 
vipers, and are infinitely more hateful than vipers.” His Bostonian peer Andrew 
Eliot condemned them as an “evil and adulterous generation.” Franklin wrote 
Poor Richard's Almanac to lecture them on prudence and thrift. But all in vain. 
Reaching their teens at a time of economic bust, land pressure, and rising 
immigration, the daunted Liberty set off on their own in quest of fame and 
fortune. Soon young losers began turning up underfoot everywhere — gambling, 
begging, stealing in the towns, “strolling” aimlessly on back roads, and sparking 
America’s first Halloween mayhem in Boston. 

COMING OF AGE: The colonies fought both of their midcentury struggles 
against France — King George’s War (1744-1748) and the French and Indian 
War (1754-1760) — primarily with Liberty muscle and guts. At first, nothing so 
thrilled these plucky teenagers as news that armies were marching. War meant 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


169 


freedom from moralizing elders and penny-pinching masters, boom wages in 
the ports, and the glittering prospect of soldiers’ bounties, pirate shares, and 
enemy booty. But as the campaigns wore on, the dreams turned into nightmares. 
Smitten by “privateering fever” (“almost a kind of madness,” remarked New 
York Awakener James DeLancey), thousands enlisted onto French-hunting gun- 
boats. Only a handful made fortunes; nearly half ended up killed, crippled, or 
captured. Royal Navy impressment gangs dragged away many of the young port 
workers, who responded with the most violent town riots in colonial history. 
Young militiamen heard themselves called wild “dogs” and selfish “riffraff” 
by British officers, who used martial-law punishment (including 500-lash whip- 
pings) to cow them into compliance. The war brought horrible youth suffering. 
While sixtyish Enlighteners sipped tea with the visiting officialdom and while 
forty ish Awakeners preached and prayed, the twenty ish Liberty paid the physical 
price. They were “young people with nothing to do and nowhere to go,” writes 
historian William Pencak, and “war took care of them — in both the literal and 
colloquial senses — during the forties and fifties.” 


RISING ADULTHOOD: From 1750 on, the colonies registered the onset 
of Liberty adulthood with a seismic jump in every measure of social pathology — 
from drinking, gambling, and crime to begging, poverty, and bankruptcy. After 
the wars, during the wild and depressed 1760s, it only got worse. Debtor prisons 
bulged with young spendthrifts. Veterans and immigrants raised havoc on the 
frontier, especially against Indians (some of whom, under the elder Pontiac, 
punished the white settlers with violent fury). Young planters partied far beyond 
their means, doubling the colonial debt to Britain between 1760 and 1775. Elders 
were aghast, and towns cut relief payments to the burgeoning numbers of young 
poor. “The only principle of life propagated among the young people is to get 
money,” complained the old Enlightener Cadwallader Colden. “They play away, 
and play it all away,” lamented Awakener Landon Carter of younger Virginians 
who preferred “bewitching diversions” to “solid improvements of the mind.” 
With the Stamp Act riots of 1765, the Liberty’s anti-British agitation increased — 
but everyone knew their mob leaders mixed self-interest with patriotism. Many 
of the leading Liberty Patriots were smugglers (John Hancock), hopeless debtors 
(Thomas Nelson), renegade settlers (Ethan Allen), or disgruntled office-seekers 
(Richard Henry Lee). Fifty ish Awakeners thundered against the thirty ish Liberty 
for their greed and selfishness — for being a generation of “white savages,” as 
Benjamin Franklin called the Paxton boys. Samuel Adams’ remarks, said a 
contemporary, “were never favorable to the rising generation.” But the Liberty 
took a nihilistic pleasure in their elders’ discomfort. “Virginians are of genuine 
blood — they will dance or die,” they laughed back. Reflecting his peers’ im- 
placable hostility to Awakener holiness, Daniel Boone declared his secret of 
happiness to be “a good wife, a good gun, and a good horse.” 



170 


GENERATIONS 


MIDLIFE: When the Continental Congress crowded up to sign the Decla- 
ration of Independence, the fifty ish (and very corpulent) Benjamin Harrison 
elbowed a (thin) younger delegate. When the signers are all hanged, Harrison 
quipped, “I shall have all the advantage over you. For me it will be all over in 
a minute, but you will be kicking in the air half an hour after I am gone!” For 
the Liberty, now entering midlife, the Revolution was a moment of truth. Unlike 
their elders, they expected no miracles (“I think the game is pretty near up,” 
wrote Washington during his retreat across New Jersey). Unlike their juniors, 
they had families and reputations at stake and less future to look forward to. 
But they never lost their practical and defensive goal: to prevent “tyranny” and 
to protect individual “liberties,” as George Mason put it in his Virginia Bill of 
Rights. Nor did they lose their cunning and ferocity. These 50-year-olds excelled 
at the dirty work: privateering (Sears again, this time owning shares in fifteen 
ships), requisitioning supplies (“Sumter’s Law”), raising money (Morris, the 
“Financier of the American Revolution”), and guerrilla tactics (“this damned 
old fox” Francis Marion, whom the British charged “would not fight like a 
Christian or a gentleman”). The Liberty also accounted for most of the war-era 
treachery — confirming elder judgments that they were not to be trusted. When 
the struggle was over, most of them fell into exhaustion, and a suspicious realism 
replaced their once-wild ardor. In 1788 they provided the leading opponents to 
the ambitious new Constitution concocted by younger Republicans. “All checks 
founded on anything but self-love will not avail,” warned 52ryear-old Patrick 
Henry, now a self-confessed “old-fashioned fellow,” skeptical of the work of 
“young visionaries.” But in the end, the fast-aging Liberty barked without biting. 
They were not about to stand in the way of the energy of their juniors — or the 
dreams of their elders. Their opposition relented, and by the fall of 1789 nearly 
all the states had ratified the Constitution. 

ELDERHOOD: “Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was pru- 
dence,” the younger Jefferson wrote of President Washington. With gruff words 
and tender manner, Washington protected the infant nation during its first eight 
years. He dealt mildly with the Indians and Tories who had once been his 
enemies, and (perhaps recalling how his own peers had once been treated) resisted 
younger calls for harsh action against the Whiskey Rebels. To avoid the risk of 
war, he avoided alliances abroad and warned against “interweaving our destiny 
with any part of Europe.” His successor, President Adams, ruined his own 
chances for reelection by steering a similar course of caution and vigilance. 
Prudent, realistic, and self-effacing, the Liberty entered elderhood just when 
Americans were shifting from the veneration of age toward the celebration of 
youth. “The language of abuse for old men dates only to about 1800,” writes 
historian David Hackett Fischer, noting that this was “the generation whose 
unhappy fate it was to be young in an era when age was respected, and old in 
a time when youth took the palm.” In the 1790s, for example, New England 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


171 


churches eliminated age-ranked seating and a majority of states imposed man- 
datory retirement ages forjudges. Many Liberty elders met with sad fates. Robert 
Rogers, their greatest war hero of the 1750s, was arrested for counterfeiting, 
turned Tory during the Revolution, and died an alcoholic in England. Thomas 
Paine died a lonely outcast on Long Island. Robert Morris died penniless, Daniel 
Boone landless. When old, John Adams despaired that the only “great men” 
were “aged men, who had been tossed and buffeted in the vicissitudes of life” 
and taught “by grief and disappointment. . .to command their passions and 
prejudices.” Few of the Liberty expected to be thanked — so certain were they, 
like the eightyish Adams, that “mausoleums, statues, monuments will never be 
erected to me.” 

* * * 

In the eyes of older and younger Americans who knew them, the Liberty 
were a generation of kinetic physicality. They played hard, spent wildly, wagered 
on cockfights and boat races, and danced the furious and competitive jig. They 
chose peer leaders of legendary size (including Henry, Arnold, Allen, Morgan, 
Boone, Harrison — and above all, George Washington, whose six-foot- three-inch 
physical presence towered above his peers). Discarded in childhood and punished 
coming of age, they chose lives of reckless abandon — not running toward hol- 
iness like their next-elders, but running away from it; not praying for grace but 
rather (like Allen and Harrison) swearing at the Bible. Ezra Stiles, their most 
learned scholar, once puckishly described the Great Awakening as a time when 
“multitudes were seriously, soberly, and solemnly out of their wits.” No one 
expected this generation to sacrifice itself in America’s hour of crisis. But that 
they did — with visceral (if corruptible) motives only they could understand: fury 
at the British “lobsterbacks” who had once tortured them, and hope that they 
might achieve some measure of security for their children. Afterward, they 
mellowed into risk-averse elders who were able to congratulate Republican her- 
oism while also checking the naive ambitions of young “Hamiltonians.” Having 
gambled and suffered quite enough for one lifetime, the Liberty reached old age 
with no illusions about human nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson later described a 
portrait of the sixtyish President Washington: “The heavy, leaden eyes turn on 
you, as the eyes of an ox in a pasture ... as if this MAN had absorbed all the 
serenity of America, and left none for his restless, rickety, hysterical country- 
men.” 



172 


GENERATIONS 


REPUBLICAN GENERATION 

Bom: 1742-1766 
Type: Civic 

Age Location: 

American Revolution Crisis in rising adulthood 
Transcendental Awakening in elderhood 

“All human greatness shall in us be found, / For grandeur, wealth, and reason 
far renown’d,” announced 29-year-old David Humphreys to his peers after the 
American triumph at Yorktown. These young victors all knew who they were — 
and why they were special. In the 1760s, they were the precious boys and girls 
whom elders sheltered from Liberty “vice” and British “corruption.” In 1775, 
they were the dutiful young Minutemen who stood their ground at Concord 
bridge. In the winter of 1778, they were the cheerful soldiers who kept faith 
with General Washington at Valley Forge. Seven years after Yorktown, in 1788, 
they became the rising-adult achievers — so many of them already famous — who 
celebrated the news of their new Constitution. Thus did the REPUBLICAN 
GENERATION come of age, performing deeds of collective valor that gave 
birth to a new nation. Thus too did worldly triumph forge them into lifelong 
builders and rationalists — single-minded creators of what they called “energy 
in government,” “order and harmony” in society, “tranquillity” of mind, 
“usefulness and reason” in science, “abundance” in commerce. Like few other 
generations, young Republicans expected glory. Sang New York patriot recruits 
in 1776: “The rising world shall sing of us a thousand years to come/ And tell 
our children’s children the wonders we have done.” From the very beginning, 
notes historian Charles Royster, “the revolutionary generation knew that they 
would stand above all their descendants.” 

As protected colonial children in the 1750s and 1760s, Republicans grew up 
under the visionary tutelage of midlife Awakeners, who saw in them the future 
of “republican” virtue. As rising adults during decades of crisis, they fulfilled 
their special mission, winning independence and establishing political and social 
order. As midlife parents and community leaders during the Jefferson Presidency, 
they harnessed the growing nation to their enormous energy and collegial dis- 
cipline. They never let their elders down. To list their leaders is to invoke a 
palladium of nation-builders: patriotic war heroes like Nathanael Greene, Henry 
Lee, Anthony Wayne, Molly Pitcher, and John Paul Jones; architects of “Co- 
lumbia” like Benjamin Latrobe and Pierre Charles L’Enfant; organizers of 
knowledge like Benjamin Rush and Noah Webster; inventors of steamships and 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


173 


rational industry like Robert Fulton and Eli Whitney. Above all, the Republicans 
proved to be a fabled generation of statesmen: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, 
James Monroe, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Albert Gallatin, Robert Liv- 
ingston, John Marshall, Gouvemeur Morris, James Wilson, Charles Cotes worth 
Pinckney, Timothy Pickering. 

No generation since the Glorious attained public renown so early in life: 
Hamilton, famous political pamphleteer at age 17; Henry Knox, commander of 
the Continental Army’s artillery at age 25; George Rogers Clark, wilderness 
Napoleon at age 27; Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence at age 
33. Through midlife and old age, they should have delighted in the gathering 
political and economic might of their “Empire of Liberty.” But instead — em- 
barrassed in the War of 1812, challenged by spiritual youth, unable to control 
the Promethean energy they had unleashed — the aging Republican elite felt 
frustration and ultimately despair. As busy and outwardly “venerated” elders 
during President Monroe’s “Era of Good Feeling,” they feared that their massive 
worldly accomplishments might not survive the restive and emotional culture of 
their children. Self-discipline they practiced by instinct, but self-immersion they 
found incomprehensible. In all the volumes Jefferson wrote about politics and 
science (“a more methodically industrious man never lived,” observes historian 
Edmund Morgan), he never kept a diary and hardly once mentioned his feelings. 
“We must go home to be happy, and our home is not of this world,” Jay told 
a friend. “Here we have nothing to do but our duty.” 

Republicans saw themselves as tireless reasoners and builders, chosen by 
history to wrest order from the chaos. Their most famous statesman (Jefferson) 
won equal fame as a scientist and architect. Their most famous legislator (Mad- 
ison) was hailed as “the master-builder of the Constitution.” Of their two 
“geniuses” of public finance, one (Gallatin) likened himself to a “laboring oar” 
for American prosperity, while the other (Hamilton) deemed “the habit of labor 
in a people” to be “conducive to the welfare of the state.” Their foremost jurist 
(Marshall), said one admirer, argued his opinions “as certainly, as cogently, as 
inevitably, as any demonstration of Euclid.” In 1802, their leading poet (Joel 
Barlow) proudly authored The Canal, subtitled “A Poem on the Application of 
Physical Science to Political Economy,” in which he predicted “science” would 
“raise, improve, and harmonize mankind.” Projecting their personality into 
religion, leading Republicans worshiped a “Creator” or “Supreme Being” — a 
God of Reason deliberately expunged of spirituality. “Throughout Jeffersonian 
thought,” notes historian Daniel Boorstin, “recurs this vision of God as the 
Supreme Maker. He was a Being of boundless energy and ingenuity who in six 
days had transformed the universal wilderness into an orderly, replete and self- 
governing cosmos. The Jeffersonian God was not the Omnipotent Sovereign of 
the Puritans nor the Omnipresent Essence of the Transcendentalists, but was 
essentially Architect and Builder.” 

All their lives, the word “republican” (from Latin res publica, literally “the 



REPUBLICAN GENERATION (Bom 1742 to 1766) 


TYPE: Civic FAMILY TREE 

Typical grandparents: Enlightenment 
Parents: Awakener and Liberty 
Children: Compromise and Transcendental 
Typical grandchildren: Gilded 

PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

Plurality in House: 1789-1813 
Plurality in Senate: 1789-1813 
Majority of Supreme Court: 1791-1826 

U.S. PRESIDENTS: 1801-1825 

1 743 Thomas Jefferson ( 1 826) 

1751 James Madison (1836) 

1758 James Monroe (1831) 

Presidency of Continental Congress: 1 778— 
1779, 1783-1784, 1788-1789 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1755 Marie Antoinette (1793) 

1756 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1791) 

1757 Marquis de Lafayette (1834) 

1758 Maximilien Robespierre (1794) 

1758 Horatio Nelson (1805) 


Age Date HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

0-17 1759: Last campaign of French and Indian War 

4-28 1770: Colonies outraged by death of youths in “Boston Massacre’’ 

10-34 1776: Jefferson drafts Declaration of Independence 

19-43 1785: Rising adults gain majority of seats in Continental Congress 

23-47 1789: States ratify U.S. Constitution 

27-51 1793: French Revolution widens “Federalist’ ’-“Republican” rift 

34-58 1800: Jefferson elected President, promises to heal party divisions 

37-61 1803: Louisiana Purchase; Marshall Court decides Marbury v. Madison 

48-72 1814: British troops bum White House before War of 1812 ends 

54-78 1820: “Era of Good Feeling”; Monroe wins 231 of 232 electoral votes 

57-81 1823: Public hails Monroe Doctrine as anticolonial mood spreads abroad 

60-84 1826: Jefferson and Adams die exactly fifty years after Independence Day 

SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: Declaration of Independence, plan for the Virginia 
state capitol (Thomas Jefferson); United States Constitution (James Madison et al.); The 
Federalist (Hamilton, Madison, Jay); American Dictionary of the English Language (Noah 
Webster); Modern Chivalry (Hugh Henry Brackenridge); The Columbiad (Joel Barlow); plan 
for the “Federal City” (Pierre L’Enfant); The Battle of Bunker Hill (painting, John 
Trumbull); The Conquest of Canaan (Timothy Dwight) 


Total number: 2,100,000 
Percent immigrant: 17% 

Percent slave: 17% 

SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

1742 Nathanael Greene (1786) 

1744 Abigail Adams (1818) 

1745 John Jay (1829) 

1745 Benjamin Rush (1813) 

1747 John Paul Jones (1792) 

1750 Kunta Kinte (c. 1815)* 

1752 Gouvemeur Morris (1816) 
1752 Timothy Dwight (1817) 

1754 Pierre L’Enfant (1825)* 

1754 Joel Barlow (1812) 

1754 “Molly Pitcher” (1832) 

1755 Nathan Hale (1776) 

1755 John Marshall (1835) 

1757 Alexander Hamilton (1804)* 

1758 Noah Webster (1843) 

1761 Albert Gallatin (1849)* 

1763 John Jacob Astor (1848)* 

1765 Robert Fulton (1815) 

1765 Eli Whitney (1825) 

1766 “Uncle Sam” Wilson (1854) 
* = immigrant 




THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


175 


public thing”) was central to their collective self-image and life purpose. “Re- 
publican” did not just refer to a form of government, nor to their radical agemates 
in France, nor even to the party label chosen by all three of their Virginia 
Presidents. For this generation, “republican” meant a classical paradigm of 
secular order — and an entire approach to social life — with which they so thor- 
oughly reconstructed America that today we still live in their civic shadow. 
Without these Res Publicans , our public buildings and banks would not look 
like miniature Parthenons. We would not have cities named Rome, Ithaca, and 
Cincinnati, nor roads named Euclid Avenue and Appian Way. Our currency 
would not be metric, nor our money adorned with Roman images (eagles, fasces, 
and arrows) and lapidary inscriptions ( Novus Ordo Seclorum, “the new order 
of the ages”). Our government would not sound as if it had been transplanted 
from the age of Augustus (with states, capitols, Presidents, and senators). 

Most of all, this generation’s unflagging devotion to the public good remains 
a standard to which all later generations must compare their behavior. “We want 
great men who, when fortune frowns, will not be discouraged,” said Knox in 
his mid-twenties. “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” 
declared the youthful Yale graduate Nathan Hale to his British executioners — 
in a voice so firm it brought tears to the eyes of the redcoats who heard it. Many 
years later Jefferson wrote, “When a man assumes a public trust, he should 
consider himself public property.” The Republicans believed that the “happi- 
ness” and “order” and “security” of society took precedence over any private 
desire. They also believed in “equality” — as a working hypothesis about the 
uniformity of Nature, not as a moral imperative. While many in the Republican 
elite disapproved of slavery (and succeeded in ending the African slave trade), 
what they disliked worse was an angry debate about it. They feared any divi- 
siveness that might imperil the great republic they had created. For this gener- 
ation, some evils had to be accommodated for what they believed to be the 
greater good. They acted accordingly — and, late in life, often wondered why 
their children could not. 


Republican Facts 

• The vast majority of Republican political leaders (from Jefferson, Madison, 

and Monroe to Marshall, Webster, and Rush) were both native-born and 
college-educated in America — in contrast to the helter-skelter Liberty, 
whose leaders were more likely immigrant (Paine), native but educated 
abroad (Dickinson), or entirely without formal schooling (Washington). 

• Between native cohorts bom in 1730 and 1760, better child nutrition caused 

the average height of adult Americans to rise by more than half an inch — 
the most rapid one-generation climb recorded in America until the G.I.s. 



176 


GENERATIONS 


In 1780, the typical Republican soldier was at least two inches taller than 
the typical English redcoat he was fighting. 

• During the 1760s, when first-wave Republicans began graduating from college, 

the share of American graduates entering clerical careers fell from four- 
fifths to one-half. Many young men turned instead to radical Masonry, a 
male “brotherhood” dedicated to teamwork, good works, and secular prog- 
ress. Masonic symbolism (the compass, plumbline, and carpenter’s square) 
celebrated the builder; Masonic praise (to be “on the square”) directness 
and utility; the Masonic icon (sunlight) the divinity of practical reason. 

• Republicans assumed political power early in life. In the 1780s, they were 

elected to New England town offices at a younger age than members of 
any generation since the Glorious. From 1774 to 1787, their delegate share 
of the Continental Congress soared from 7 to 75 percent. During the three 
Liberty Presidencies (1789-1801), Republicans claimed over three-quarters 
of all members of Congress, two-thirds of all Supreme Court justices, one 
of the two Vice-Presidencies, nearly all the diplomatic posts, and all fourteen 
cabinet appointments — from Secretary of State to Postmaster General. 

• The leading Federalist advocates of the Constitution were on average ten to 

twelve years younger than their Anti-Federalist opponents. At the Phila- 
delphia Convention in 1787, thirty ish Republicans (Madison, Pinckney, 
Hamilton, Wilson, Martin, King, and Strong) were the most influential 
drafters and debaters. 

• No other generation has ever matched the forty-seven-year tenure spanning 

the Republicans’ first and last years of national leadership — from John Jay 
(in 1778 elected president of the Continental Congress at age 33) to James 
Monroe (whose second term as U.S. President expired in 1825 at age 67). 

• Not until the G.I.s has any other generation of leaders been so aggressively 

secular in outlook. Most of the Republican candidates for President — es- 
pecially Jefferson, Madison, Burr, Pinckney, and King — avoided any dis- 
play of Christian piety and were widely regarded as atheists by their 
contemporaries. When asked by an elder clergyman why the Constitution 
did not mention God, the young Hamilton pertly replied: “I declare, we 
forgot.” 

• The political eclipse of the Republicans coincided with their humiliation in the 

War of 1812. On the eve of Jefferson’s embargo of 1806, Republicans still 
constituted 7 1 percent of all congressmen and governors. By the first postwar 
election of 1815, their share had plunged to 37 percent. 

• In the 1820s, Congress repeatedly raised pension benefits to elderly Revolu- 

tionary War veterans; by the end of the decade, nearly half of all federal 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


177 


spending consisted of interest and pension payments. In 1828, 70-year-old 
Noah Webster introduced the word “veneration” into the American vo- 
cabulary. In the 1830s and 1840s, Americans began to “venerate” the 
image of “Uncle Sam” in the person of the seventyish veteran Samuel 
Wilson, one of the last survivors of his generation. 


The Republican Lifecycle 

YOUTH: Around 1745, routine brutality among and against colonial teen- 
agers aroused little adult sympathy. By 1770, the year of the “Boston Massacre,” 
the violent death of one child was enough to spark vehement public outrage. 
Over the course of just twenty-five years, American attitudes toward the young 
reversed direction entirely — from neglect to protection, from blame to comfort. 
Despairing the wayward Liberty, midlife Awakeners wanted to ensure that this 
new crop of kids would grow up to be smart and cooperative servants to a 
dawning vision, a republic of virtue. During the war-tom 1750s, towns shielded 
children from the rowdiness of twenty ish Liberty by tightening up on begging, 
gambling, and theaters. “By 1750,” observes historian Jay Fliegelman, “irre- 
sponsible parents became the nation’s scapegoat.” The number of tutors per 
capita doubled as popular books reinforced the holy and protective role of the 
parent. In the 1760s, parents began avoiding “corrupt” English schools and sent 
their kids instead to Awakener- founded academies in the colonies. Here Repub- 
lican teenagers could imbibe the new fever of “civic revival” and a new Scottish 
school of practical and optimistic curricula — now purged of skeptics like Hume 
and Berkeley (who, noted Awakener Witherspoon, “take away the distinction 
between truth and falsehood”). Between parents, Republican kids showed a 
marked preference for fathers over mothers. Marshall later confessed that “my 
father was a greater man than any of his sons”; many others, like Jefferson, 
cultivated a lifelong preference for male company. Historian Kenneth Lynn 
concludes that “certainly in no other period of our past can we find the top 
leaders of American society speaking as gratefully as these patriots did about 
the fathering they received.” 

COMING OF AGE: “Columbia, Columbia, to Glory Arise!” urged Tim- 
othy Dwight to his peers on the eve of revolution. In 1774, the oldest (age 32) 
were just young enough to have no childhood memories before the new rage of 
parental protection and civic fervor. The youngest (age 8) were just old enough 
to join the fight before it was over and reach full adulthood by the time of 
Washington’s inauguration. Elder Americans had never before seen such com- 
petent, cheerful, and selfless youngsters. “All gaming, tricking, swearing, 
lying,/ Is grown quite out of fashion,” intoned a popular ballad in 1779, “For 
modem youth’s so self-denying,/ It flies all lawless passion.” In war, young 



178 


GENERATIONS 


soldiers fought as a team, seldom asking why but always asking how. To elder 
eyes, they could do no wrong. Victimized by foul play (like the scalped Jane 
McCrea), they were lionized as “butchered innocents.” Caught for treason (like 
Major John Andre), they attracted sympathy, even while the older Benedict 
Arnold was burning in effigy across the colonies. Unlike Liberty marauders and 
pirates, the more homogeneous Republicans — Greene, Wayne, Lee, Clark, and 
Jones — soon proved to be the ablest leaders of the conventional war effort. When 
aging Awakeners stepped down from their posts during the war, many Repub- 
licans leapfrogged their Liberty next-elders to fill the vacancies. Riding a dazzling 
reputation for genius and optimism, they swept into town offices and the Con- 
tinental Congress, drafted state constitutions and policy treatises, and grabbed 
most of the new state and national offices. Assuming power just when (as Rush 
put it) “everything is new and yielding,” their youthful confidence soon collided 
with the exhaustion and localism of their next-elders. Here these young heroes 
won their culminating victory: drafting a stronger Constitution and ratifying it 
over churlish Liberty opposition. In Virginia, the ringing words of 35-year-old 
Edmund Randolph (“Mr. Chairman, I am a child of the Revolution . . .”) over- 
whelmed the fifty ish Patrick Henry. In New York, the genius of The Federalist — 
rapidly penned by Hamilton, Jay, and Madison (average age, 36) — outclassed 
the fiftyish Henry Clinton. 

RISING ADULTHOOD: Elevated by their coming-of-age triumphs, they 
likened themselves to history’s greatest empire-builders, from “Caesar” (Ham- 
ilton) to “Lycurgus” (Madison). In the 1790s, young Republicans lived and 
breathed worldly accomplishment. Their first priority was to secure public order 
by eradicating riotous Liberty atavisms. They crushed the Shay sites, Whiskey 
Rebels, and Ohio Indians; organized as “orderly” Federalists and “rational” 
Republicans; and ostracized wayward peers who refused to outgrow their coming- 
of-age sympathy with the French Revolution. Proud of the “mechanical courage” 
they had learned as soldiers, they behaved collegially and placed public interest 
over private gain. “Every engine should be employed to render the people of 
this country national,” declared Noah Webster. Energetic builders, they founded 
“Societies for Advancement of Industry,” designed a “Columbia” of colon- 
naded grandeur (L’Enfant), invented the cotton gin (Whitney), and launched 
steamboats (Fulton). They also began leading America toward much wider sex- 
role distinctions. Having proved themselves “men” to their beloved fathers, 
rising Republicans associated “effeminacy” (and “that old hag” Britain) with 
corruption and disruptive passion, “manliness” with reason and disinterested 
virtue. Federalists taunted Jefferson for his “womanish” attachments to France, 
while Jefferson contemptuously called the Adams Presidency “a reign of 
witches” and (notes one historian) “would have totally banished women from 
the public sphere.” Republicans widely believed that sexual and political order 
were directly linked. “Society is composed of individuals,” Enos Hitchcock 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


179 


remarked. “They are parts of a whole, — and when each one moves in his own 
orb, and fills his own station, the system will be complete.” Their men would 
thereafter specialize as producers and rulers, their women as moral guardians of 
the family. 

MIDLIFE: They all arrived together: a new century, a new capital, a new 
President, and a new generation. Taking office in Washington, D.C., on March 
4, 1801, Jefferson asked his “fellow citizens” to “unite in common efforts for 
the common good” and to contemplate “a rising nation . . . advancing rapidly 
to destinies beyond the reach of mortal eye.” Confident (versed Joel Barlow) 
in the “fair science of celestial birth” that “leads mankind to reason and to 
God,” midlife Republicans deemed nothing to be beyond their collective power. 
So it often seemed. From Jefferson’s Northwest Ordinance (1787) to Monroe’s 
acquisition of Florida (1819), the Republicans quintupled the effective size of 
America’s domain. “The United States take their place among powers of the 
first rank,” exulted Robert Livingston in 1803 after the 500-million-acre Lou- 
isiana Purchase. Meanwhile, Livingston’s peers presided over rapid material 
growth, awesome by any measure — dollars of exports, miles of turnpikes and 
canals, bushels of cotton, and numbers of banks, post offices, ships, patents, 
and corporate charters. Yet these very successes prompted growing uneasiness. 
As their once-compact “Republic of Virtue” expanded into a mighty “Empire 
of Liberty,” midlife Republicans worried that something was dissolving the 
innocence and optimism they recalled from their youth. Perhaps it was the 
multiplying slave plantations, or the decimation of Indians; perhaps the vast and 
impersonal markets, or the westward rush of disorderly pioneers. Their frustration 
came to a head in the War of 1812 — a conflict that disgraced six Republican 
major generals, nearly triggered the secession of New England, and humiliated 
Madison when the British effortlessly torched the White House. Their invincible 
self-image shattered, most Republicans thereafter retreated from public life — 
leaving only their Presidents in power. 

ELDERHOOD: In the fall of 1823, the public watched in awe as three 
white-haired and magisterial Virginians (Monroe, Madison, and Jefferson- 
average age, 72) conferred over a declaration today known as the Monroe Doc- 
trine. With this grand twilight moment of Republican statecraft, Americans of 
all ages sensed that a magnificent generation was passing. As living testimonials 
to the great institutions they had wrought, aging Republicans still exuded outward 
energy and confidence. “We must never forget that it is the Constitution we are 
expounding,” urged Marshall proudly to younger justices. From stately Mont- 
pelier, Madison called America “the workshop of liberty to the civilized world”; 
from sunny Monticello, Jefferson saw “the great march of progress passing over 
us like a cloud of light,” and his last public testament hailed “the general spread 
of the light of science.” Inwardly, however, many despaired. No matter how 



180 


GENERATIONS 


hard they kept busy in their retirement ( k Tt is wonderful how much may be 
done, if we are always doing,” wrote Jefferson to his daughter), the prospect 
of death came hard to a secular-minded generation dedicated more to progress 
than to God. Having hoped for so much, elderly Republicans expressed frustra- 
tion over their waning influence on public life. “How feeble are the strongest 
hands. How weak all human efforts prove,” complained the aging Freneau, his 
upbeat poetry now unread. More often, they turned the blame around: they had 
not betrayed history; history had betrayed them . By history they meant their 
children — who were feminizing their once-manly “virtue,” spuming their ra- 
tional Masonic brotherhood, fragmenting into political faction, and celebrating 
feeling rather than teamwork. Many onlooking Republicans sensed a mocking 
repudiation of everything they had built. “We will leave this scene not for a 
tittering generation who wish to push us from it,” fulminated David Humphreys. 
Beware “your worst passions,” Gallatin presciently warned the young. After 
hearing the angry slavery debates of 1820, the 78-year-old Jefferson shocked 
two younger generations when he declared: “I regret that I am now to die in 
the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves by the generation of 1776, to 
acquire self-government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away 
by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons.” 

* * * 

Government is “instituted,” observed Hamilton as a young man, “because 
the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without 
constraint.” All their lives, “passion” was the Republicans’ most hated word. 
The young Pickering boasted that his Federalist peers “gave the reins not to . . . 
passions, but to reason.” The young Jefferson hoped rational Deism might soon 
become the national religion. Yet, late in life, passion did indeed become their 
nemesis. For a few Republicans (including Webster, who decades earlier had 
proclaimed America “an empire of reason” and had tried to popularize the verb 
“happify”), bom-again religion offered solace from despair in their extreme old 
age. For most, the passion of their children loomed as a threat they could neither 
accept nor understand. Ironically, this generation of “Founding Fathers” had 
far closer, more affectionate relationships as children with their own fathers than 
they ever had later on as fathers with their own children. In the 1760s, Repub- 
licans were handed a worldly mission by unworldly elders and as young adults 
achieved immortal greatness fulfilling it. A half century later, they tried to make 
their own young into replicas of themselves — to make them (as Rush described 
the purpose of education) into “Republican machines” able “to perform their 
parts properly in the great machine of government of state.” It seemed a simple 
enough task for such powerful and heroic builders — the only “generation” of 
Americans praised throughout their lives (and ever afterward) for unequaled 
glory. But it was the single task at which they failed utterly. 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


181 


COMPROMISE GENERATION 

Bom: 1767-1791 
Type: Adaptive 

Age Location: 

American Revolution Crisis in youth 
Transcendental Awakening in midlife 
Civil War Crisis in elderhood 

“We can win no laurels in a war for independence,” insisted Daniel Webster 
as a young man. “Earlier and worthier hands have gathered them all.” Henry 
Clay, John C. Calhoun, Meriwether Lewis, and William Clark would have 
agreed. Along with Webster, they had all been protected and thankful children 
during the glorious years of nation-founding. Also with Webster, and with many 
other notables among their COMPROMISE GENERATION, they were all fated 
to careers of secret turmoil and hidden frustration. In 1804, Lewis and Clark set 
out with forty-four young civil servants to inventory the vast territories acquired 
by their next-elders. They obeyed President Jefferson’s request to observe “with 
great pains and accuracy” and to “err on the side of safety.” (Only one man 
died en route.) But soon after returning, Lewis suffered from emotional depres- 
sion and in 1809 died mysteriously — probably a suicide. Clark, for thirty years 
a kindly Indian Commissioner for the western territories, later regretted his 
complicity in the Jacksonian policy of Indian removal that led to the 1838 
Cherokee ‘ ‘Trail of Tears. ’ ’ As for the learned and eloquent ‘ ‘Great Triumvirate” 
of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, few Americans have ever groomed themselves 
so carefully for national leadership. Yet at critical moments they invariably 
stumbled; collectively, the Triumvirs were zero for twelve in runs for the Pres- 
idency. The members of what historians sometimes call America’s “post-heroic” 
or “second” generation searched in vain for an authentic sense of collective 
accomplishment. “We may boast of our civil and religious liberties,” Lyman 
Beecher modestly observed, “but they are the fruits of other men’s labors.” 
They lived an awkward lifecycle. Outwardly, fortune blessed them: Com- 
promisers were coddled in childhood, suffered little in war, came of age with 
quiet obedience, enjoyed a lifetime of rising prosperity, and managed to defer 
national crisis until most of them had died. But behind these outer blessings lay 
inner curses. Their birthyear boundaries reflect nonparticipation in the major 
events of their era. Bom in 1767, the eldest (Andrew Jackson, John Quincy 
Adams) watched the Revolution as children and came of age when the military 
and political triumphs of the Republicans were already complete. Bom in 1791, 



COMPROMISE GENERATION (Bom 1767 to 1791) 


TYPE: Adaptive 


FAMILY TREE 


Total number: 4,200,000 
Percent immigrant: 10% 
Percent slave: 15% 


Typical grandparents: Awakening 
Parents: Liberty and Republican 
Children: Transcendental and Gilded 
Typical grandchildren: Progressive 


SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 


1767 Denmark Vesey (1822) 
c. 1768 Tecumseh (1813) 

1768 Dolley Madison (1849) 

1769 DeWitt Clinton (1828) 

1773 John Randolph of Roanoke (1833) 

1774 Meriwether Lewis (1809) 

1775 Francis Cabot Lowell (1817) 

1777 Roger Taney (1864) 

1777 Henry Clay (1852) 

1780 William Ellery Channing (1842) 
1782 Daniel Webster (1852) 

1782 John C. Calhoun (1850) 

1783 Washington Irving (1859) 

1785 John Audubon (1851)* 

1786 Davy Crockett (1836) 

1786 Winfield Scott (1866) 

1787 Emma Willard (1870) 

1788 Sarah Hale (1879) 

1789 James Fenimore Cooper (1851) 
1791 Samuel F. B. Morse (1872) 

* = immigrant 


Plurality in House: 1813-1835 
Plurality in Senate: 1813-1841 
Majority of Supreme Court: 1829-1860 

U.S. PRESIDENTS: 1825-1845, 1849- 
1850, 1857-1861 

1767 Andrew Jackson (1845) 

1767 John Quincy Adams (1848) 

1773 William Henry Harrison (1841) 

1782 Martin Van Buren (1862) 

1784 Zachary Taylor (1850) 

1790 John Tyler (1862) 

1791 James Buchanan (1868) 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1769 Napoleon Bonaparte (1821) 

1769 Duke of Wellington (1852) 

1770 Ludwig van Beethoven (1827) 

1771 Sir Walter Scott (1832) 

1783 Simon Bolivar (1830) 


Age 

Date 

0-14 

1781: 

0-20 

1787: 

2-26 

1793: 

13-37 

1804 

21-45 

1812 

29-53 

1820 

42-66 

1833 

45-69 

1836 

56-80 

1847 

59-83 

1850 

61-85 

1852 

66-90 

1857 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

English Army surrenders at Yorktown; Revolutionary War ends 

U.S. Constitution framed in Philadelphia 

Fugitive Slave Act enacted; first use of cotton gin 

Lewis and Clark explore newly purchased Louisiana Territory 

War of 1812 begins; ends in 1814 with Battle of New Orleans 

Clay’s Missouri Compromise; Channing organizes Unitarian Church 

Compromise Tariff; Jackson begins second term 

Crockett dies at Alamo; Congress gridlocked over “gag rule’’ 

Generals Taylor and Scott invade Mexico 

Compromise of 1850; Webster embraces new Fugitive Slave Law 

Webster, Clay die; Whig Party disintegrates after electoral loss 

Buchanan starts term; Taney Court issues Dred Scott decision 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Washington Irving); 
The American Democrat, The Last of the Mohicans (James Fenimore Cooper); The Star- 
Spangled Banner (song, Francis Scott Key); Married or Single? (Catherine Sedgwick); A Visit 
from St. Nicholas (Clement Clarke Moore); The Old Oaken Bucket (Samuel Woodworth); The 
First Forty Years of Washington Society (Margaret Bayard Smith); The Value and Importance 
of Legal Studies (Joseph Story) 




THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


183 


the youngest (James Buchanan, Samuel F. B. Morse) reached adulthood just 
ahead of new youth movements in religion and literature. The Transcendental 
Awakening of the 1820s and 1830s hit most of them at an unsettling time — 
squarely in midlife. Having spent their early years emulating their celebrated 
next-elders, Compromisers spent their later years trying to please or calm their 
next-juniors. History records little that is distinctly theirs. The stunning victories 
of Jackson, Oliver Perry, and Stephen Decatur late in the War of 1812 culminated 
a pointless and blundering conflict declared by elder Republicans. Two decades 
later, the social upheaval of their “Age of Jackson” was fueled mainly by 
younger Transcendental. 

Compromisers were content to split the difference. They sought what President 
Jackson called “the middle course” — between two regions (North and South), 
two parties (Whig and Democrat), and two neighboring peer personalities 
(confident manliness and moral passion). Their confusion spilled over into self- 
conscious cruelty toward slaves and Indians, chronic ambivalence about eco- 
nomic and territorial expansion, and — late in life — paralyzing irresolution over 
the approaching collision between abolitionism and King Cotton. At the same 
time, they humanized and stabilized the new institutions wrought by Promethean 
elders. Their political leaders (historian Matthew Crenson calls them the “ad- 
ministrative founding fathers”) defended pluralism, due process, and two-party 
politics. Their professionals (Francis Cabot Lowell) methodized industry. Their 
artists (John Audubon) catalogued nature. Their writers (James Fenimore Cooper 
and Washington Irving) leavened American culture with “romantic” sensitivity. 
Their clerical elite, prodded by William Ellery Channing’s Unitarian Church, 
was the first to suggest that “society itself” may be responsible for the ills of 
modem life. 

All these efforts earned mixed reviews from other generations. Republican 
elders appreciated the Compromisers’ earnest sense of professionalism, but re- 
sisted any attempt to substitute what historian John Ward calls the Jacksonian 
“power of the heart” for the Jeffersonian “power of the head.” John Randolph, 
a young House leader at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, blamed America’s 
obsession with new territory on leaders whom he emotionally denounced as 
“energy men. ” Randolph’s elders considered him deranged — as indeed he even- 
tually became. Two decades later, young Transcendentals looked to Compro- 
misers for flashes of a crusading virtue they sensed was fading from the world. 
“Jackson’s life,” observes historian Michael Rogin, “gratified a softer gener- 
ation living prosaic lives.” But the young often found Compromiser eloquence 
more enervating than inspiring. “There are seasons,” announced the fiftyish 
Channing, “when new depths seem to be broken up in the soul, when new wants 
are unfolded in multitudes, and a new and undefined good is thirsted for.” Once 
Channing died, the thirtyish firebrand William Garrison noted scornfully that 
“his nerves were delicately strung. The sound of a ram’s horn was painfully 
distressing to him.” 



184 


GENERATIONS 


“Life itself is but a compromise,” observed the 73-year-old Henry Clay, the 
“Great Compromiser” himself, as he proposed the last of his famous balancing 
acts. “All legislation, all government, all society is formed upon the principle 
of mutual concession, politeness, comity, and courtesy.” Clay’s generation 
presided over America during the three decades that span the Missouri Com- 
promise of 1820, the Compromise Tariff of 1833, and the Great Compromise 
of 1850. Every step of the way, an odd mixture of outer calm and emotional 
turmoil plagued them. Sensitized young to the feelings of others, they matured 
into parents and leaders who sought to preserve their “reputation” and the 
approval of “public opinion.” At worst, their other-directedness blinded them 
to simple choices. “The world is nothing but a contradance,” worried Webster 
to a friend, “and everything volens, nolens, has a part in it.” Yet at best, their 
irrepressible instinct for openness and honesty ennobled even their failures. No 
generation of southerners ever felt so ill at ease with their “peculiar institution” 
of slavery ; no generation of northerners ever agonized so earnestly over the plight 
of the “noble savage.” Entering the White House in March of 1849, Zachary 
Taylor promised “to adopt such measures of conciliation as would harmonize 
conflicting interests. ...” On his deathbed a year later, he confessed, “God 
knows I have tried to do my honest duty. But I have made mistakes.” 


Compromiser Facts 

• The Compromisers came of age and married amid a floodtide of romantic 

literature. Between the American Revolution and the War of 1812, the 
number of “romance novels” rose tenfold — as did the number of magazine 
articles stressing the “glorification of personal emotions” and the “ideal- 
ization of the loved one.” 

• During the War of 1812, the average age of U.S. major generals fell from 60 

to 36. Nearly all the military leaders disgraced early in the war were midlife 
Republicans; nearly all the leaders victorious late in the war were rising- 
adult Compromisers. Yet the war ended in a stalemate — and, ironically, 
the greatest Compromiser-led victory (Andrew Jackson’s at New Orleans) 
occurred two weeks after John Quincy Adams (then across the Atlantic) 
had concluded the treaty which ended the war. Twenty years later, Con- 
gressman Henry Wise explained why a Compromiser-led Congress refused 
to include a scene from Jackson’s victory in the Capitol rotunda: “I would 
be content to confine the subjects to a date prior to 1783.” 

• From first cohort to last, Compromiser women enjoyed rising access to 

advanced education — beginning with the Philadelphia Academy, founded 
in 1787 by Republicans in order to produce “sensible, virtuous, sweet- 
tempered” wives and mothers. Among all biographical entries in Notable 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


185 


American Women , less than one-quarter of those bom before 1770 had an 
advanced education, versus nearly two-thirds of all entries bom by the 
1780s. 

• The Compromisers were the first generation to invent a specialized vocabulary 

for politics, coining such words as “lobby,” “logrolling,” “spoils,” 
“bunk,” “filibuster,” and “noncommittal” (first coined to describe Martin 
Van Buren). 

• During the Compromisers’ “log cabin” rising adulthood, the share of the 

American population living west of the Appalachians grew from 3 percent 
in 1790 to 28 percent in 1830. But while many sought fresh western soil, 
many also chose professional and commercial callings. The big losers were 
the New England farm and the Virginia plantation. During this generation’s 
three prosperous midlife decades (1820 to 1850), the share of the American 
workforce engaged in agriculture fell from 79 to 55 percent — the most rapid 
decline in American history. 

• By the 1810s, Compromiser parents in their thirties and forties began to avoid 

having children, initiating a long-term decline in U.S. fertility that would 
later accelerate with the Transcendentals. After liberalizing marriage and 
child-custody laws in the late 1820s and 1830s, Compromisers entering 
midlife became the first American generation to divorce in significant num- 
bers. 

• The Compromisers attained their peak share of Congressional seats and gov- 

ernorships in 1825, four years before the “Age of Jackson” began. In 1839, 
two years after Andrew Jackson had left the White House at age 69 (the 
oldest exiting President until Eisenhower), their share had fallen beneath 
that of the younger Transcendentals. 

• Household tax data from 1850 suggest that Compromisers, in their sixties and 

seventies, were wealthier relative to young adults than any other elder 
generation over four centuries of American history. 


The Compromiser Lifecycle 

YOUTH: “Rocked in the cradle of the Revolution” was how Clay later 
described his childhood — a phrase that fits most of his young peers. First-wavers 
witnessed the worst of the mob and wartime violence. At age 12, Andrew Jackson 
(whose mother and two older brothers died during the war) was himself beaten 
and jailed by the British. At age 8, William Henry Harrison watched Benedict 
Arnold’s redcoats use his father’s cattle for target practice. Last-wavers grew 
up seeing less violence, but sensing comparable adult anxiety during the turmoil 



186 


GENERATIONS 


of the 1780s and the hysteria over the French Revolution during the early 1790s. 
Surrounded by political and economic crisis, Compromiser children toed the 
line, while protective midlife Liberty and buoyant rising-adult Republicans pulled 
in the boundaries of family life to maximum tightness. Parents urged boys and 
girls to emulate widening sex-role divisions. Hastily rewritten textbooks taught 
them to revere the mythic grandeur of their elder “Founding Fathers.” Teachers 
strictly monitored their classrooms (and America’s first Sunday schools) to pre- 
vent unruly behavior — and passed out black crepe for teenagers to wear when 
Washington died in 1799. Republican educators insisted that this first generation 
of “national children” be “molded” into serviceable and obedient patriots. It 
was not a good time for the young to draw attention to themselves. Attending 
disciplined colleges, the aspiring elite studied hard, worried about their “sober 
deportment,” and looked forward to brighter times ahead. 

COMING OF AGE: Their passage into adulthood was smooth and seamless. 
“We were indeed in the full tide of successful experiment,” recalled John 
Randolph of the rising optimism — and conformism — of the Jefferson and Mad- 
ison Presidencies. Shunning risk, the young Adams wrote of “our duty to remain 
the peaceable and the silent” in an essay that won him an appointment as 
ambassador. Webster observed his college chums “balancing,” easing unob- 
served into the adult world. Single women worried about being dismissed as 
“old maids” at age 25, yet understood (like Eliza Southgate) that “reputation 
undoubtedly is of great importance to all, but to a female ’tis everything — once 
lost ’tis forever lost.” Single men obeyed the law. After 1790, the youth-driven 
mob violence that had coursed through so much of colonial history since the 
1730s suddenly abated. Even when defying authority, young Compromisers 
chose their rebellions with care. Fledgling authors (both men and women) in- 
dulged in syrupy romanticism, teasing stolid midlife Republicans with deep 
feeling. College teachers like Lyman Beecher challenged secularism with ear- 
nestly respectful religious movements. Backwoods lawyers like Clay and Jackson 
crossed the Appalachians in search of rowdy adventure, yet felt less like con- 
querors than mischievous “settlers” on Republican-designed land grids. Court- 
ships were awkwardly sentimental. Webster’s biographer describes him as 
“better at writing poetry than making love” — but unlike their elders at like age, 
Compromisers expected emotion to resemble poetry. Men compensated for their 
absence of catharsis by flamboyant gestures of dominance over women, slaves, 
and Indians — and by dueling. A few months after Clay and Randolph missed 
each other at a chivalric ten paces, Clay gushed (upon hearing of a friend’s duel): 
“We live in an age of romance!” 

RISING ADULTHOOD: “Let our age be the age of improvement,” urged 
Webster, exulting in America’s surging prosperity. In the 1790s, twentyish first- 
wavers embarked on prosperous careers during America’s first export boom. 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


187 


Around 1820, thirty ish late- wavers joined the rage of canal-building and cloth 
manufacture in the north, or migrated to the southwestern frontier, where they 
could make fortunes growing cotton. Yet behind the easy affluence lurked per- 
sonal unease. Like William Wirt, rising Compromisers tried “to assume the 
exterior of composure and self-collectedness, whatever riot and confusion may 
be within. ” They knew their destiny lay in dutiful expertise, not heroism. Despite 
rousing victories (at New Orleans) and stirring words ( The Star-Spangled Banner) 
during the War of 1812, these young men realized that this “Second War for 
Independence” hardly compared with the first. Where their elders had founded 
an “Empire of Liberty” and “stood” for office as citizen-statesmen, Com- 
promisers talked of an “American System” and “ran” for office as political 
professionals. Nor could thirty ish women replay the young heroine role of their 
mothers; instead, they embraced the new romantic “cult of true womanhood” — 
emphasizing innocence, femininity, and domestic virtue. As they matured, both 
men and women felt a growing tension between duty and feeling, between the 
proper division of social labor and a subversive desire for personal fulfillment. 
They felt an ambivalence that they knew had never bothered their parents. 

MIDLIFE: During the 1820s, as aging Republican executives passed out of 
power and the Transcendental Awakening erupted, midlife Compromisers turned 
their adaptive antennae from elders to juniors. Still believing (with Washington 
Irving) that “ours is a government of compromise,” yet swayed by what Tocque- 
ville termed a “faith in public opinion,” they tried to overcome their youthful 
caution by taking greater risks. Their first three Presidents — the effete Adams, 
the swaggering Jackson, and the calculating Van Buren — accurately reflect the 
fragmenting jigsaw of their “post-heroic” midlife personality. By the late 1830s, 
Compromiser leaders vied to outposture each other with youth-oriented rhetoric 
of populism and reform. Even the Whigs, hyping “log cabin and cider” and 
their Alamo martyr Davy Crockett, learned to spar with the Democrats at their 
own game. Public debate fixated on process and gesture, what the despairing 
Cooper called “petty personal wranglings” and “intellectual duellos.” During 
the 1820s, southern Compromisers founded dozens of antislavery societies, but 
their hopes for gradual emancipation were soon dashed by the polarizing rhetoric 
of rising Transcendental . (By the late 1830s, all of these southern societies had 
been disbanded.) The younger Emerson began assailing “the timid, imitative, 
and tame” Compromiser leadership; Thaddeus Stevens came to scorn their “mer- 
cenary, driveling” congressmen, eager “to conciliate Southern treason.” As 
America entered the 1850s, remarks historian Samuel Eliot Morison, “there 
seemed nobody left to lead the nation but weak, two-faced trimmers and angry 
young men.” Meanwhile, as society raced toward urbanization and westward 
expansion, the American family drifted toward trouble, with rising divorce rates, 
budding feminism, and a disturbingly wild new batch of (Gilded) children. Sarah 
Hale, who had written “Mary Had a Little Lamb” as a young widow, joined 



188 


GENERATIONS 


midlife peers like Lydia Sigourney and Emma Willard in denouncing men’s 
“cruelty” to women, “to which every female heart must revolt.” 

ELDERHOOD: Tom between the congealing fanaticism of the young and 
guilty memories of Republican discipline, Compromisers entered elderhood 
watching America drift toward painful outcomes: Indian removal, anti-immigrant 
riots, lawless frontiers, slave chases, and sectional hatred. As they struggled to 
remain accommodating, their leaders shied away from the venerable titles once 
accorded to old Republicans. They preferred chummier nicknames: “Old Hick- 
ory” (Jackson), “Old Fuss and Feathers” (Scott), “Old Rough and Ready” 
(Taylor), “Old Prince” (Clay), and “Old Man Eloquent” (Adams). Sensing 
tragedy approach, they feared the final judgment of history. Clay had earlier 
despaired how his generation might “ignobly die” with “the scorn and contempt 
of mankind; unpitied, unwept, and unmoumed.” Their last chance to mediate 
rising Transcendental passions — culminating in their Compromise of 1850 — 
earned them (Webster especially) precisely what Clay feared, the “scorn and 
contempt” of their next-juniors. Later on, seventyish “Old Buck” Buchanan, 
John Crittenden, and Roger Taney persisted in fruitless efforts to defer or ignore 
the rush to war. “Say to the seceded states: ‘Wayward sisters, depart in peace,’ ” 
wrote the white-haired General Winfield Scott to younger leaders who no longer 
cared for the advice of 1812 war heroes. Dying on the eve of crisis, Philip Hone 
voiced his “anxious thoughts” about how “time unhallowed, unimproved. . . 
presents a fearful void.” A few years later, the dying Buchanan blamed the 
Civil War on both “the fanatics of the North” and “the fanatics of the South.” 
Like Hone and Buchanan, most Compromisers died lamenting both sides, just 
as they had lived trying to accommodate both sides. 

* * * 

Compromiser eulogies were full of mixed phrasing. One scholar said of 
Webster: “With all the greatness and smallness, with all the praise and 
blame ...” Ever since, historians have been unable to decide whether Jackson 
was a force for pettiness or progress, or whether the Clay-Webster-Calhoun 
“Great Triumvirate” moderated or worsened the ultimate ferocity of the Civil 
War. Behind so many of this generation’s favorite schemes — transporting In- 
dians, recolonizing Africa, granting sovereignty to territories — was a faith in 
fair play and pluralism. Unlike their next-elders, Compromisers realized that the 
bond of social discipline could no longer hold the pieces together; unlike their 
next-juniors, they refrained from forcing their own judgments on others. From 
the perspective of subsequent events, their choices can easily be criticized. But 
we often forget how few alternatives were open to them — given their own 
instinctive caution as well as the zeal and lawlessness of younger Americans. 
Some choices may have averted worse outcomes: Had Compromiser leaders not 
compelled the eastern Indians to migrate west, even their humanitarian peers 
conceded that the tribes would soon have been wiped out by land-hungry whites. 



THE REVOLUTIONARY CYCLE 


189 


Other choices may have come closer to success than we realize: Until youth 
anger and rabid sectionalism broke out in the 1830s, Compromiser plans for the 
gradual abolition of slavery seemed perfectly feasible. (Similar plans had worked 
earlier in several northern states and were then being seriously discussed in 
Virginia.) Such is the painful, might-have-been legacy of a kind but confused 
generation sandwiched between two others of extraordinary power. The Com- 
promisers inherited grandeur and tried to perfect it by adding humor, sensitivity, 
expertise, and fairness. They passed away fearing they had failed to preserve, 
much less perfect, the achievements of their forefathers. No American generation 
ever had a sadder departure. 



Chapter 9 


THE CIVIL WAR 
CYCLE 


// r T^ 

A here is nothing like it on this side of the infernal region,” recalled one 
war veteran of the youthful “rebel yells” that screeched over the hills above 
Bull Run Creek near Manassas, Virginia (today a suburb of Washington, D.C.), 
on a sultry July afternoon in 1861. Among some 18,000 Union soldiers mostly 
in their twenties, the “peculiar corkscrew sensation” of this sound triggered 
panic and retreat. But it delighted another 18,000 Confederate soldiers — in- 
cluding a plucky 37-year-old brigadier general, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. 
For them, the yell seemed to herald a quick victory. The attention of all America 
was riveted on a battle that many believed would decide the war in a single day. 
From Richmond, 53-year-old Jefferson Davis sped toward the scene to witness 
the triumph of his new “Nation under God.” In Washington, 52-year-old Abra- 
ham Lincoln warned the Union not to despair over this “Black Monday” and 
hurriedly signed a bill enlisting 500,000 more soldiers. Fiftyish congressmen 
who had journeyed to Manassas as spectators climbed out of their carriages and 
commanded the fleeing young bluecoats to return to the battle. “We called them 
cowards, denounced them in the most offensive terms, put out our heavy re- 
volvers, and threatened to shoot them, but all in vain,” explained Ohio Con- 
gressman Albert Riddle. “No man ever saw such a mass of ghastly wretches.” 
That night, in Augusta, Georgia, 4-year-old Woodrow Wilson joined his parents 
in praying for the Confederacy — while in a house on West 20th Street, New 
York City, 2-year-old Theodore Roosevelt did likewise for the other side. 


190 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


191 


In the aftermath of Bull Run, the 75-year-old Winfield Scott would retire as 
commander of Union forces, his Anaconda Plan now in total disrepute, along 
with the Crittenden Compromise and all the other conciliatory measures sug- 
gested by Scott’s aging generation. In the summer of 1861, the Compromisers 
had no senators, one governor, and only two congressmen in office — a historic 
nadir for the political influence of Americans in their seventies. The epic climax 
of the CIVIL WAR CYCLE would be a drama not of four generations, but three: 

• Lincoln’s TRANSCENDENTAL GENERATION (Idealist, then age 40 to 69) 

had, in their twenties, provided the original core of the 1830s-era evangelical 
and abolitionist movements. Ever since, the extremism of William Lloyd 
Garrison, the stridency of young plantation owners, and the memory of Nat 
Turner’s violent slave rebellion had worked to snuff out any Compromiser 
hope of peacefully weaning the South from slavery. Now in their fifties, 
this generation of Massachusetts “Black Republicans’’ and South Carolina 
“Fire Eaters’’ was fully prepared to shed younger blood to attain what they 
knew was right. Preaching from pulpits and railing from Congress, the peers 
of John Brown, Harriet “Moses’’ Tubman, Julia Ward Howe, Alexander 
Stephens, and Robert E. Lee looked to war for what New Englanders 
heralded as “the glory of the coming of the Lord’’ and Virginians “the 
baptism of blood’’ for their newborn confederacy. The hand of God was 
felt in Richmond no less than in Washington — and, over the next four years, 
these two capitals of “His Truth’’ would be bisected by a hundred-mile 
scar of mud and blood. All their lives, Transcendentals were a generation 
others feared but followed — until their apocalypse ended. In their old age, 
as they watched Reconstruction disintegrate and other principled causes fall 
into scorn, many of them would look back on Bull Run as the moment their 
ideals began self-destructing. 

• Stonewall Jackson’s GILDED GENERATION (Reactive, age 19 to 39) com- 

prised the “ghastly wretches’’ Congressman Riddle saw scrambling away 
across Bull Run Creek. They had signed up for what they had expected to 
be a quick adventure, with maybe a little glory and profit mixed in — not 
much different from the California gold fields to which many had rushed 
as teenagers. Most expected that their sheer energy and derring-do (“Always 
mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy,’’ advised Jackson) would end 
the war quickly and let them get on with life’s practical challenges. For 
Gilded whites, any resolution at all to the thundering hatred between elder 
abolitionists and elder “Southrons’’ would at last allow them to settle the 
western frontier. For Gilded blacks, including the slaves who began fleeing 
northward on the “underground railroad,’’ Bull Run marked a necessary 
first step (albeit a tactical setback) toward flesh-and-blood freedom. But as 
the war settled into its meaner, later years, the jaunty opinion of this gen- 
eration would sour. The scrappy adventurers whom Oliver Wendell Holmes, 



192 


GENERATIONS 


Jr., saw as “touched with fire” in their youth would later turn bitterly 
cynical about passionate crusades. The same 25-year-olds who had shrieked 
(or heard) the rebel yell would, much later in their sixties, remember Bull- 
Run — and Antietam, Gettysburg, and Atlanta — and warn the young against 
the horrors of war. Few would listen. 

• For Wilson’s PROGRESSIVE GENERATION (Adaptive, age 2 to 18), the 
news of Bull Run signaled the beginning of a family trauma that was destined 
to pass over their childhood like a dark and cruel cloud. They would not 
see daylight again until 1865, when Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train jour- 
neyed from Washington through New York to Illinois. The black-creped 
cortege would be seen by an astonishing seven million Americans, nearly 
one-fifth the population of the reunited nation. Witnessing the last act, the 
youngest in this most fatherless of American generations would sit hoisted 
on a mother’s shoulder and hear elders talk of the sufferings they had endured 
to provide children with a better future. The eldest would help out in the 
war effort: teenage Thomas Edison stringing telegraph wires. Sergeant Wil- 
liam McKinley serving hot meals to troops at Antietam. Later, they would 
pass from a smothered youth to a conformist young adulthood, concentrating 
on smallish tasks in a society where great things were built (or said) by 
others. Emancipated young, black Progressives like Booker T. Washington 
would reach midlife disinclined to provoke a white society that, over the 
four bloody years commencing with Bull Run, had shown its capacity for 
organized butchery. 

In the Civil War, the midlife Transcendentals wrote the script and dominated 
the credits; the rising-adult Gilded did the thankless dirty work; and the child 
Progressives watched and worried. All three suffered the wreckage and became 
cohabitants of America’s only three-part cycle — the one whose crisis came too 
soon, too hard, and with too much ghastly devastation. This cycle is no aber- 
ration. Rather, it demonstrates how events can turn out badly — and, from a 
generational perspective, what happens when they do. 

The Civil War Cycle had its origin when the failed Presidential bid of Andrew 
Jackson in 1824 fired a fresh mood of radicalism among coming-of-age Tran- 
scendentals — an accelerating enthusiasm over spiritual conversion, social re- 
form, “Manifest Destiny,’’ abolitionism, and utopian communalism. The cycle 
extended through the pitched battles of the Civil War and came to an inglorious 
end with the conformism and spiritual decline of the “Gilded Age’’ of the 1870s 
and 1880s. Climaxing in tragedy, the cycle failed to produce a Civic-type gen- 
eration. After swiftly elbowing aside Transcendental leadership in the years 
following the war, the Reactive Gilded transformed in midlife from a recessive 
to a dominant generation, assuming some of the traits (secularism, conformism, 
lengthy political tenure, and an indulgent style of child nurture) associated with 



FIGURE 9-1 

Civil War Cycle: Age Location in History 


SPIRITUAL SECULAR SPIRITUAL SECULAR 

AWAKENING CRISIS AWAKENING CRISIS 



Transcendental Civil Missionary Depression, 

Awakening War Awakening World War II 

Crisis Crisis 


vO 

u> 


THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 



194 


GENERATIONS 


the Civic type at that phase of life — but without the hubris of crisis-era success. 
Though first-wave Progressives began life with a nurture similar to that of a 
Civic childhood, the trauma of war caused this generation to come of age smoth- 
ered instead of empowered. Thereafter, its awkward connection with history and 
its other-directed peer personality would follow the pattern of an Adaptive type. 

The Civil War Cycle contained two social moments: 

• The Transcendental Awakening (1822-1837) was triggered by the evangelical 

preaching of Charles Finney and by widespread excitement over religious 
conversion, social reform, and radical idealism. Often merging with the 
popular “Jacksonian” movement, it peaked around 1831 with Nat Turner’s 
rebellion, the founding of abolitionist societies, and the rise of labor parties 
and new religious sects. After giving birth to the “transcendentalist” school 
of philosophy and literature, the fervor subsided along with the collapse of 
Jacksonian prosperity in 1837. “The great years of the new revivalism were 
1825 to 1837,” notes historian Edward Pessen. Steeped in the awakening’s 
radical call for Christian perfection, rising adults afterward took this agenda 
with them as they aged into the midlife leaders of the Civil War. LOCATION 
IN HISTORY: Republicans in elderhood; Compromisers in midlife; Tran- 
scendental in rising adulthood; Gilded in youth. 

• The Civil War Crisis (1857-1865) — “the Second American Revolution” ac- 

cording to Charles and Mary Beard — began in 1 857, the year of Buchanan’s 
inauguration, the “Bleeding Kansas” debates, and the Dred Scott decision. 
The crisis extended through the war itself and ended with General Robert 
E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox (on Palm Sunday) and the assassination 
of President Lincoln (five days later, on Good Friday). Graying preachers 
gloried in the religious symbolism. But unlike other crisis eras, the de- 
nouement of the Civil War produced less optimism than a sense of tragedy 
having run its course. At the end of the 1860s, a disillusioned “bloody 
shirt” generation of generals, officers, and older soldiers surged into po- 
litical office — a position of power they would hold (but exercise cautiously) 
for a very long time. Meanwhile, the coming-of-age generation — trauma- 
tized, not energized, by the most destructive military conflagration yet 
witnessed in world history — meekly avoided asserting itself in public life. 
LOCATION IN HISTORY: Compromisers in elderhood; Transcendentals in 
midlife; Gilded in rising adulthood; Progressives in youth. 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


195 


TRANSCENDENTAL GENERATION 

Bom: 1792-1821 
Type: Idealist 

Age Location: 

Transcendental Awakening in rising adulthood 
Civil War Crisis in midlife 

“The young men were bom with knives in their brain,” recalled Ralph Waldo 
Emerson of his youthful peers in the 1830s. He once described them as an 
assortment of “madmen, madwomen, men with beards, Dunkers, Muggleton- 
ians, Come-Outers, Groaners, Agrarians, Seventh-Day Baptists” — Utopians and 
sectarians of all stripe, whom the like-aged southerner Edgar Allan Poe mock- 
ingly labeled “frogpondium.” They looked the part, too: their “anti-corset” 
women wearing mannish “Bloomers” and their young men at Brook Farm (to 
quote a fellow communard) wearing “their hair parted in the middle and falling 
upon their shoulders, and clad in garments such as no human being ever wore 
before.” Nathaniel Hawthorne nostalgically looked back on Brook Farm as “our 
exploded scheme for beginning the life of Paradise anew” and on Emerson’s 
Concord crowd as “a variety of queer, strangely dressed, oddly behaved mortals, 
most of whom took upon themselves to be important agents of the world’s 
destiny.” Early in life, they deemed themselves agents of the world’s inner 
destiny. Only later did the men and women of this TRANSCENDENTAL GEN- 
ERATION project their zeal onto the outer world and lead America toward the 
Last Judgment. In his thirties, Emerson wrote, “Beware when the great God 
lets loose a thinker on this planet.” In his fifties, he greeted the bombardment 
of Fort Sumter by confessing in his journal that he found purification in “war” — 
which “shatters everything flimsy and shifty, sets aside all false issues. . . . Let 
it search, let it grind, let it overturn.” 

As post-crisis babies. Transcendental s took first breath in a welcoming new 
era of peace and optimism. As indulged children, they were assured by midlife 
Republican hero-leaders that every conflict had been won, every obstacle sur- 
mounted. But coming of age, these youngsters erupted in fury against the cultural 
sterility of a father-built world able to produce (charged Emerson in 1820) “not 
a book, not a speech, a conversation, or a thought worth noticing.” They 
preached feeling over reason, community over society, inner perfection over 
outer conformity, moral transcendence over material improvement. The outburst 
defined the Transcendentals as a generation. First- wavers were just learning to 



TRANSCENDENTAL GENERATION (Bom 1792 to 1821) 


TYPE: Idealist 

Total number: 1 1 ,000,000 
Percent immigrant: 20% 
Percent slave: 13% 


SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

1792 Thaddeus Stevens (1868) 

1795 Dred Scott (1858) 

1797 Sojourner Truth (1883) 

1800 John Brown (1859) 

1800 Nat Turner (1831) 

1801 Brigham Young (1877) 

1803 Ralph Waldo Emerson (1882) 

1805 William Lloyd Garrison (1879) 

1807 Robert E. Lee (1870) 

1807 Henry W. Longfellow (1882) 

1808 Jefferson Davis (1889) 

1809 Edgar Allan Poe (1849) 

1813 John Fremont (1890) 

1815 Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1902) 

1817 Frederick Douglass (1895) 

1817 Henry David Thoreau (1862) 
c. 1820 Harriet Tubman (1913) 

1820 William Tecumseh Sherman (1891) 

1820 Susan B. Anthony (1906) 

1821 Mary Baker Eddy (1910) 

Age 

0 - 8 
0-20 
4-33 
10-39 
27-56 
31-60 
38-67 
42-71 
44-73 
47-76 
56-85 
61-90 


FAMILY TREE 

Typical grandparents: Liberty 
Parents: Republican and Compromise 
Children: Gilded and Progressive 
Typical grandchildren: Missionary 

PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

Plurality in House: 1835-1869 
Plurality in Senate: 1841-1873 
Majority of Supreme Court: 1861-1889 

U.S. PRESIDENTS: 1845-1849, 1850- 
1857, 1861-1869 

1795 James Polk (1849) 

1800 Millard Fillmore (1874) 

1804 Franklin Pierce (1869) 

1808 Andrew Johnson (1875) 

1809 Abraham Lincoln (1865) 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1795 Thomas Carlyle (1881) 

1805 Alexis de Tocqueville (1859) 

1813 Richard Wagner (1883) 

1818 Karl Marx (1883) 

1819 Queen Victoria (1901) 


Date HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

1800: Jefferson elected to first term 

1812: War of 1812; elder generals disgraced 

1825: New Harmony community launches utopian movement 

1831: Nat Turner’s slave rebellion; Garrison launches abolitionism 

1848: “Manifest Destiny’’ defeats Mexico; Women’s Rights Convention 

1852: Uncle Tom’s Cabin fuels abolitionism in North 

1859: John Brown’s raid on U.S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry 

1863: Emancipation Proclamation; Union victorious at Gettysburg 

1865: Lee surrenders at Appomattox; Lincoln assassinated 

1868: Radical Republicans fail to impeach President Johnson 

1877: Reconstruction ends; U.S. troops leave South 

1882: Longfellow, Emerson die one month apart, eulogized for wisdom 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: The Liberator (William L. Garrison); Walden, 
“Civil Disobedience” (Henry D. Thoreau); Gettysburg Address (Abraham Lincoln); 
Encyclopedia Americana (Francis Lieber); Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman); “The 
Transcendentalist” (Ralph W. Emerson); “The Raven” (Edgar Allan Poe); Battle Hymn of 
the Republic (song, Julia Ward Howe); The Book of Mormon (Joseph Smith); The Scarlet 
Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne); The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Jefferson 
Davis) 




THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


197 


talk when their dutiful Republican fathers were crushing the Whiskey Rebels, 
age 9 at Jefferson’s first inauguration, and barely 30 when the initial clamor over 
revival and reform broke out during the twilight Monroe years. Last- wavers 
came of age just in time to join the furor before it receded in the late 1830s. 
First wave and last, they afterward embarked on self-immersed voyages — starting 
families and careers while founding communes, joining sects, dabbling in odd 
lifestyles, probing the soul with art. In the 1850s, the Transcendentals emerged 
again into public life, this time as midlife champions on both sides of what 
William Seward called their “irrepressible conflict.” Summoning juniors to 
battle, they presided as leaders over four years of total war, which only ended 
when William Tecumseh Sherman vowed to punish the Confederacy to its “in- 
nermost recesses” and sixtyish Radicals like Thaddeus Stevens demanded a 
postwar “reconstruction” of the southern soul. 

From Stevens to Lincoln, Whitman to Poe, Garrison to the Blackwell sisters, 
Transcendentals grew up notoriously estranged from their fathers. Many warned, 
like Garrison, of 4 ‘the terrible judgments of an incensed God’ ’ that “will complete 
the catastrophe of Republican America’ ’ ; or proclaimed, like Emerson, that “men 
are what their mothers made them”; or condemned, like Thoreau (whose mother 
brought home-cooked meals to his Walden retreat), “the mouldering relics of 
our ancestors.” “ ‘Our fathers did so,’ says someone. ‘What of that?’ say we,” 
wrote Theodore Parker, described by a friend as “a man of Nature who abom- 
inates the steam-engine and the factory.” But if young Transcendentals often 
joined Compromisers in sniping attacks on Republican social discipline, they 
reached midlife without their next-elders’ instinctive caution. “Compromise — 
Compromise!” wrote William Herndon on the eve of war. “Why I am sick at 
the very idea.” 

Whether Abolitionists, “Southrons,” Mormons, or Anti-Masons, they agreed 
that each person must act on an inner truth that transcends the sensory world — 
a credo immortalized by Emerson in 1842 as “Transcendentalism” and praised 
by Oliver Wendell Holmes as “our intellectual Declaration of Independence.” 
Unlike their elders, Southern “fire-eaters” like Robert Barnwell Rhett and Wil- 
liam Yancey refused to apologize for slavery, but instead found virtue in an 
aggressive empire of chivalry and bondage. Meanwhile, northerners like Seward 
declared the abolition of slavery to be “a higher law” than their father-drafted 
Constitution, and Garrison condemned the half-slave Union as “a covenant with 
death, an agreement with hell.” Neither side questioned that God was on its 
side. While ax- wielding visionaries like John Brown and Nat Turner sanctified 
what Herman Melville heralded as their “meteor of war,” Harriet Beecher Stowe 
demanded that the “wrath of Almighty God” descend on America, a day that 
“shall bum like an oven.” 

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, all Americans ridiculed, re- 
spected, or feared whatever age bracket the Transcendentals occupied as a moving 
repository of inner-driven passion and unbreakable principle. In the 1820s, the 



198 


GENERATIONS 


age bracket was youth: fledgling preachers like Charles Finney and their ado- 
lescent followers who made up the elder-attacking cere of what historians call 
the Second Great Awakening. In the 1840s, it was rising adulthood: thirtyish 
men and women, oblivious to any peer group but their own, who filled the ranks 
of America’s abolitionists, southern expansionists, feminists, labor agitators, 
Utopians, and reformers. In the 1860s, it was midlife: bearded fifty ish crusaders 
who despised both the caution of their elders and the opportunism of their juniors. 
In the 1880s, it was elderhood: craggy patriarchs and matriarchs — some starting 
new causes (Wendell Phillips’ socialism), others persisting in old movements 
(Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s feminism), and all warning the young not to back 
down from truth and justice. At every age, Transcendentals mingled images of 
nature, mother, love, redemption, and apocalypse, pew became great scientists; 
Isaac Singer and Cyrus McCormick were their only celebrated inventors. But 
as moral prophets, no generation ever paraded so many visions of godliness — 
whether Lincoln’s Union, Davis’ Confederacy, Brigham Young’s “Kingdom of 
Zion,” John O’Sullivan’s “Manifest Destiny,” John Humphrey Noyes’ “per- 
fectionism,” Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science, Albert Brisbane’s utopian 
communes, Orestes Brownson’s Catholic socialism, or Dorothea Dix’s severe 
but redemptive penology. 

From youth to old age, the Transcendentals celebrated the subjective like no 
other generation before or since. While Garrison chastised his peers for their 
“thralldom of self,” Emerson preached “whoso would be a man must be a 
nonconformist,” Thoreau insisted on the “majority of one,” and Whitman (in 
his “Song of Myself”) rhapsodized that “I dote on myself, there is that lot of 
me and all so luscious.” “All that we see or seem/ Is but a dream within a 
dream,” wrote Poe. French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville, encountering “a 
fanatical and almost wild spiritualism that hardly exists in Europe,” concluded: 
“Religious insanity is very common in the United States.” British visitor Frances 
Trollope called them the “I’m-as-good-as-you-are population” and added, “I 
do not like them.” No matter. Transcendentals cared only for what they thought 
of themselves. They valued inner serenity: “having a strong sphere” (Stowe); 
being a person who “is what he is from Nature and who never reminds us of 
others” (Emerson); or possessing a “perfect mental prism” (as a friend described 
Lincoln). Only later in life did their narcissism mutate into an irreconcilable 
schism between northern and southern peers, each side yearning for perfection 
no matter how the violence might blast the young. Like a generation of Captain 
Ahabs, Transcendentals from Boston to Charleston turned personal truth into 
collective redemption. Crowding into churches while younger men died at Get- 
tysburg, they sang the third verse of Julia Ward Howe’s Battle Hymn of the 
Republic with utter conviction: “I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished 
rows of steel:/ As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;/ 
Let the hero, bom of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,/ Since God is 
marching on.” 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


199 


In his last public address, Lincoln declared: “Important principles may and 
must be inflexible.” Yet after he died, many of his aging peers came to regret, 
like Dr. Holmes, the ravages of “moral bullies” who “with grim logic prove, 
beyond debate,/ That all we love is worthiest of hate.” “One trembles to think 
of that mysterious thing in the soul,” wrote Melville, pondering “the vindic- 
tiveness with which we carry on our wars, and the misery and desolation that 
follow in their train.” The Transcendentals may have been America’s most high- 
minded generation — but they also became, by any measure, its most destructive. 
Recalling Robert E. Lee, the younger Henry Adams bitterly remarked after the 
Civil War was over, “It’s always the good men who do the most harm in the 
world.” 


Transcendental Facts 

• Thanks to Republican science, Transcendentals were the first American babies 

to be yanked into the world by forceps-wielding male doctors rather than 
by mid wives. Thereafter, mothers insisted that these infants be regarded as 
unique individuals: They were the first whose names were chosen primarily 
by mothers instead of fathers; the first whose names were actually used in 
family conversation (no longer “it” or “baby”); and the first not commonly 
named after parents . From the 1 7 80s to the 1 8 1 Os , the share of New England 
babies named after parents dropped from 60 to 12 percent. (It rose again 
for later generations.) 

• The worst riots (then known as “breaking-ups”) in the history of American 

universities occurred from 1810 through the mid- 1830s. At Harvard in 1823, 
two- thirds of the senior class were expelled shortly before commencement. 
At Oberlin, abolitionist clubs held “revivals” in which students recounted 
the “sins” of their slaveholding fathers. 

• From the 1810s to 1830s, rising Transcendentals fueled the most rapid ex- 

pansion of evangelical religion in American history. In the West, youthful 
settlers flocked to new Baptist and Methodist churches. In the South, young 
preachers buried forever the cool rationalism of the Republican planter- 
statesmen. “By 1830,” notes historian Russel Nye, “had Jefferson been 
still alive, he would undoubtedly have found his religious principles highly 
unpopular in his native Virginia.” 

• Coining the words “spiritualism,” “medium,” “rapping,” “seance,” “clair- 

voyance,” and “holy roller,” rising Transcendentals delighted in altered 
states of consciousness. From the 1840s on, a large share of this generation 
believed in psychic phenomena (seances with the dead, prophetic dreams) — 
including Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, reformers William Lloyd Gar- 
rison and Horace Greeley, and even many Transcendental feminists, from 



200 


GENERATIONS 


Lucy Stone to Elizabeth Blackwell. “Consistently,” claims historian Ann 
Braude, “those who assumed the most radical positions on woman’s rights 
became Spiritualists.” 

• The Transcendentals were the first coming-of-age Americans to experiment 

with opium. By the time they ranged from their teens through their thirties 
(the early 1830s), U.S. alcohol consumption had climbed to its highest level 
ever — the equivalent of a quart of whiskey per week for every American 
over age 15. Entering midlife, however, this generation led a thundering 
campaign against “Demon Rum” which successfully reduced alcohol con- 
sumption to one-fourth its former level by 1850. 

• In his History of American Socialisms , published in 1870, the aging Tran- 

scendental John Humphrey Noyes deemed seventy-four utopian commu- 
nities worth mentioning and dating. Fifty-five were founded between 1825 
and 1845. “All died young,” Noyes observed, “and most of them before 
they were two years old.” 

• Over one six-year span, fortyish Transcendental authors published the best- 

remembered literature of the nineteenth century — including The Scarlet 
Letter (Hawthorne, 1850); Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Stowe, 1852); Walden (Tho- 
reau, 1854); The Song of Hiawatha (Longfellow, 1855); Moby Dick (Mel- 
ville, 1855); and Leaves of Grass (Whitman, 1855). Formerly regarded by 
Europeans as literary primitives, American authors suddenly acquired a vast 
European following. By the late 1850s, Longfellow outsold Tennyson in 
England. 

• When Transcendentals came of age, all America cherished the look and sagacity 

of youth; when they grew old, Americans respected the look and sagacity 
of age. The full beard — an enduring symbol of Transcendental wisdom — 
came into vogue among midlife men in the late 1850s (just about the time 
of John Brown’s raid). Though the beard remained popular among elderly 
men in the 1880s, the next generation of midlifers began adding a mustache 
or rejecting it altogether in favor of bushy “sideburns” (named after the 
Gilded Union general Ambrose Burnside). 

• Of the sixteen leading “Radical Republicans’ ’ in Congress who took the hardest 

line against the defeated Confederacy in 1867, fifteen were Transcendentals 
(average age, 57) — although Congress as a whole (average age, 49) was 
by now one-third Gilded. 

• The Civil War years began with Transcendentals enjoying the greatest one- 

generation political hegemony in American history (a 90 percent share of 
governors and Congress in 1860) and ended with the largest generational 
rout in the election of 1868 (when the Transcendental share plunged from 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


201 


63 to 44 percent). The period from 1865 to 1869 marked the steepest-ever 
decline in one generation’s share of national leadership. 


The Transcendental Lifecycle 

YOUTH: “Our schools, our streets, and our houses are filled with straight, 
well-formed children,” exulted David Ramsay in 1802, praising the offspring 
of midlife Republican nurture. Transcendentals missed the atmosphere of crisis 
that had smothered young Compromisers. They grew up instead in the orderly 
yet brightening climate of Jeffersonian America. “The elements added after 
1790” to childhood, notes historian Joseph Kett, “were increasingly on the side 
of freedom.” Many parents used their rising affluence to give their children 
expensive toys (including pastel-painted children’s furniture) and to seat them 
in individualized family portraits. Pestalozzian tutors encouraged positive emo- 
tion, and schoolbooks like Alphabet Without Tears made learning more friendly. 
In 1818, a British visitor noted “the prominent boldness and forwardness of 
American children” who are “rarely forbidden or punished for wrong doing” 
and “only kindly solicited to do right.” Transcendentals later felt nostalgia for 
their childhood, a friendly and preindustrial “Age of Homespun,” as Horace 
Bushnell came to label it. Nevertheless, most recoiled at an early age from 
fathers whom they perceived as reserved and soldierly. While parents urged 
duty, activity, and society, these children preferred meditation, reading, and 
“solitude” (a word they would cherish throughout their lives). Cerebral and 
self-immersed, they avoided joining the adult world and turned their teenage 
years, notes Kett, into “a period of prolonged indecision.” At work, they felt 
themselves “minds among the spindles” (as one visitor described the first Lowell 
factory girls). Attending college, they mixed a passion for God and nature with 
angry attacks on rotelike curricula. While Lyman Beecher, the Compromiser 
educator, reported effusively that the most radical youths had “the finest class 
of minds he ever knew,” Emerson’s description of his young peers struck an 
ominous note: “They are lonely; the spirit of their writing is lonely; they repel 
influence; they shun general society. . . . They make us feel the strange disap- 
pointment which overcasts every youth.” 

COMING OF AGE: The revolt against fathers warmed up during the out- 
wardly placid late 1810s, when coming-of-age Transcendentals began rejecting 
what 22-year-old James Polk described as “a tedious enumeration of noble 
ancestors.” Fashions celebrating age (powder and queues, waistcoats, knee 
breeches) swiftly gave way to those celebrating youth (short hair, shouldered 
jackets, pantaloons). Youngsters drawn to upstate New York to help build the 
Erie Canal, a region soon known as the “Burnt-Over District,” launched an 



202 


GENERATIONS 


evangelical surge led by the young Charles Finney. Teenagers of both sexes 
(including Joseph Smith, the future Mormon prophet) experienced radical con- 
versions and attacked elders as “sinners” and “hypocrites.” By the late 1820s, 
as social and geographical mobility quickened with the first surge of industrial- 
ization, youths joined religion to a radical social agenda. Screaming “to wake 
up a nation slumbering in the lap of moral death,” young William Lloyd Garrison 
proclaimed, “I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice.” 
He launched the riotous abolitionist movement in 1831 — the same year 28-year- 
old Nat Turner led his bloody insurrection against slave masters. By the mid- 
1830s, young radicals were sparking labor and “Locofoco” activism in the 
cities, joining the Anti-Masonic Party in the countryside, and rallying to new 
cultural and religious standards in the college towns — from Emerson’s “Ideal- 
ism” to John Greenleaf Whittier’s antislavery lyrics to Mary Lyon’s bold new 
college (Mount Holyoke Seminary) for women. “The Seventy” — an entourage 
of young lecturers who traveled the nation chastising their elders — featured 
women as well as men. “There is no purely masculine man, no purely feminine 
woman,” observed Margaret Fuller. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, deemed by 
Emerson “the universal poet of women and young people,” urged his peers to 
“shake the vast pillars of this Commonweal, / Till the vast Temple of our liberties/ 
A shapeless mass of wreck and rubbish lies.” 

RISING ADULTHOOD: Whitman called it “simmering, ’ ’ Emerson “meta- 
morphosis,” Thoreau the moment “when we have lost the world . . . and begin 
to find ourselves.” For twenty ish and thirty ish adults, it meant the transition 
from radical awakening to a mellower era that promised (declared Fuller’s Dial 
magazine) “the unfolding of the individual man, into every form of perfection, 
without let or hindrance, according to the inward nature of each.” This era of 
Transcendental remission was triggered by the Panic of 1837, an event that 
historian Sidney Ahlstrom says “darkened the dream” for young reformers and 
led them into “the Fabulous Forties.” Institutionally, Republican-built (and now 
Compromiser-managed) America stood intact — but, culturally, rising adults 
were substituting an entirely new agenda. Pursuing separate paths, they mixed 
outward pessimism with inward confidence by secluding themselves (Thoreau 
at Walden, Davis on a Mississippi plantation), founding utopian communities 
(Brook Farm, Nauvoo, Fruitlands), establishing colleges as reform enclaves 
(Oberlin, Antioch), launching “spiritualist” fads (homeopathy, phrenology), 
and asserting women’s rights (Seneca Falls). They turned the tide against sub- 
stance abuse by advocating alcoholic temperance and natural-food diets like 
Sylvester Graham’s fermented crackers. They challenged neoclassical architec- 
ture with a “Gothic revival” — asymmetrical houses with churchish gables and 
earth-tone colors. Their first political leaders displayed surprisingly sharp edges. 
President James Polk, an austere “born-again” Methodist, led a moralistic cru- 
sade against Mexico that shocked elders — and a 32-year-old congressman pro- 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


203 


posed a “Wilmot Proviso” that challenged the life work of the aging 
Compromiser Triumvirate. Down South, Transcendental preachers found god- 
liness in slavery as fortyish “ultimatumists” began demanding secession. Foreign 
visitors in the early 1840s remarked on the “seriousness” and “absence of 
reverence for authority” of the “busy generation of the present hour.” “All 
that we do we overdo,” agreed Theodore Parker. “We are so intent on our 
purpose that we have no time for amusement.” 

MIDLIFE: “The age is dull and mean. Men creep, not walk,” complained 
Whittier of the 1850s, a decade of stale Compromiser leadership that Stowe 
described as “an age of the world when nations are trembling and convulsed.” 
The mood turned sour with the failure of European revolutions, the unpopular 
Compromise of 1850, frontier violence, and spectacular fugitive slave chases. 
In the mid- 1850s, with lawless mayhem breaking out in “Bleeding Kansas,” 
midlife Americans feared that the rapacious younger Gilded were about to shatter 
their visions and rip America to pieces. Fifty ish preachers warned of Apocalypse 
from their pulpits. Like- aged legislators began shouting at each other over prin- 
ciple — one brutally caning another on the Senate floor. In 1859, the “martyr- 
dom” of John Brown after his raid on Harpers Ferry catalyzed the mood on 
both sides. “How vast the change in men’s hearts!” cried Phillips. “The North 
is suddenly all Transcendentalist,” exulted Thoreau. “Unborn deeds, things 
soon to be, project their shapes around me,” mused Whitman of “this incredible 
rush and heat, this strange ecstatic fever of dreams.” Once Lincoln’s election 
answered Whitman’s plea for a “Redeemer President,” his peers grimly prepared 
for a Civil War that Lincoln insisted “no mortal could stay.” As the young 
marched off to bloody battle, midlife Transcendental urged them on with appeals 
to justice and righteousness. Garrison spoke of the “trump of God,” while 
Phillips warned that the Union was “dependent for success entirely on the 
religious sentiment of the people.” Around the time Atlanta was in flames, the 
words “In God We Trust” first appeared on U.S. coinage. Late in the war, 
though the devastation grew catastrophic, both sets of Transcendental Presidents 
and Congresses refused to back down. “Instruments of war are not selected on 
account of their harmlessness,” insisted Thaddeus Stevens, beckoning Union 
armies to “lay waste to the whole South.” And so the North did — finding 
redemption at Gettysburg, in Sherman’s march, and in Emancipation. Afterward, 
Transcendental felt spiritual fulfillment: a huge human price had been exacted 
from the young, but a new era was indeed dawning. Observed Melville, “The 
Generations pouring . . . / Fulfilled the end designed;/ By a wondrous way and 
glorious/ A passage Thou dost find. ...” 

ELDERHOOD: “Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of 
ending,” wrote Longfellow, adding (in “Morituri Salutamus’’) how, “as the 
evening twilight fades away,/ The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.” 



204 


GENERATIONS 


One contemporary remarked how Longfellow “grew more beautiful every year 
of his advancing old age — with his flowing white hair and beard and his grand 
face.” Late in the nineteenth century, a generation that had once detested eld- 
erhood now found new powers in it. The young father-hater Theodore Parker 
grew old watching his peers mature into “a noble, manly life, full of piety which 
makes old age beautiful”; Sidney Fisher felt “a profound sense of the dignity 
and worth of our souls.” The Gilded had their doubts. After blunting the postwar 
vengeance of aging Radicals, 30- and 40-year-olds moved swiftly in the late 
1860s to purge the nation of Transcendental leaders — in Congress, governors’ 
mansions, and the White House. In three straight Presidential elections (1868, 
1872, and 1876), older Transcendental candidates fell to less reform-minded 
juniors. Meanwhile, old Confederates remained unrepentant (like Jefferson 
Davis), led younger white “Redeemers” (like Nathan Forrest, “Grand Wizard” 
of the postwar Ku Klux Klan), or aged into chivalric symbols of the “Lost 
Cause” (like Wade Hampton). In scientific circles, the amoral Darwinism that 
so enamored the Gilded drew heated criticism from old Asa Gray. Thus did 
Transcendentals transform into elders much like those in the novels of Hawthorne 
and Melville — stem- valued patriarchs, revered but feared (like Thaddeus Ste- 
vens) for “something supernatural” that “inhabits his weary frame.” While the 
aging minister Albert Bames assured his friends they would die The Peaceful 
Death of the Righteous , aging spiritualists likewise heralded the end with stoic 
confidence. For Lydia Child, “The more the world diminished and grew dark, 
the less I felt the loss of it; for the dawn of the next world grew even clearer 
and clearer.” Versed Holmes to Whittier “On His Eightieth Birthday”: “Look 
Forward! Brighter than earth’s morning ray / . . . The unclouded dawn of life’s 
immortal day!” 

* * * 

With their passing, the Transcendentals left behind an enduring projection of 
their peer personality. Exalting inner truth, they brought spirit to America — 
lofty imperatives of heartfelt religion and moral justice unknown to the Jeffer- 
sonian world of their childhood. Contemptuous of earthly reality, so too did 
they wreak vast material devastation. They emancipated the slaves, wrote in- 
spiring verse, and preserved the Union their fathers had created. But they also 
slaughtered the younger Gilded, thereby triggering a massive reaction that 
vaunted pragmatism over principle. For decades after the Civil War, the old 
Transcendental causes lay dormant (temperance), repudiated (feminism), even 
reversed (Jim Crow) by juniors who reached midlife despising the fruits of 
righteousness. Worse, the still younger generation of child Progressives, whom 
these elders might have empowered to lock in their grand visions, instead came 
of age in a wrecked world of spent dreams. The memory of Transcendentals 
would eventually grow warmer among a new generation of postwar babies who 
went to school staring up at portraits of what Booth Tarkington remembered as 
“great and good” old men — the likes of Longfellow, Holmes, Whittier, and 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


205 


Emerson. In 1881, a fresh crop of young college men heard the seventyish 
Phillips warn them to “sit not, like the figure on our silver coin, ever looking 
backward.” In 1892, a fresh crop of young college women heard the 77-year- 
old Elizabeth Cady Stanton remind them of “The Solitude of Self.” A quarter 
century later, these inner-driven Missionaries would build a national monument 
to Lincoln, worship Susan B. Anthony, and celebrate the Transcendental as a 
generation beloved for its principle and vision. 

Yet among the most important Transcendental endowments is a terrible lesson. 
The generation of Lincoln was also that of John Brown, a man who summoned 
“a whole generation” to “die a violent death” and was elevated to sainthood 
by his most eminent peers. It was also the generation of Mary Baker Eddy, who 
insisted that “God is Mind, and God is infinite; hence all is mind,” and of 
William Lloyd Garrison, who urged war in order to bring mankind “under the 
dominion of God, the control of an inward spirit, the government of the law of 
love.” The peers of Lincoln, Brown, Eddy, and Garrison — bom to heroic par- 
ents, indulged as children, fiery as youths, narcissistic as rising adults, and 
values-fixated entering midlife — ultimately chose to join technology and passion 
to achieve the maximum apocalypse then conceivable. 



206 


GENERATIONS 


GILDED GENERATION 

Bom: 1822-1842 
Type: Reactive 

Age Location: 

Transcendental Awakening in youth 
Civil War Crisis in rising adulthood 
Missionary Awakening in elderhood 

“The only population of the kind that the world has ever seen,” Mark Twain 
wrote of the Gold Rush 49ers, “two hundred thousand young men — not sim- 
pering, dainty, kid-gloved weaklings, but stalwart, muscular, dauntless young 
braves, brimful of push and energy,” all having caught what Twain called the 
“California sudden-riches disease.” Eight in ten were between age 10 and 30, 
making circa- 1850 San Francisco the most monogenerational city ever seen in 
America — and among the most anarchic, with no families or laws, just vigilante 
justice enforced by hangings. The wildness of the western territories prompted 
the fortyish Horace Mann to ask disparagingly, “Why were they not colonized 
by men like the pilgrim fathers?” Back in eastern cities, meanwhile, unsupervised 
youths shocked elders — poor kids by roaming wild in the streets and organizing 
America’s first urban gangs with names like Roach Guards; the better-off kids 
(whom Van Wyck Brooks later called la jeunesse doree of the 1840s) by throwing 
books through college windows and striking cynical poses in fashionable cloth- 
ing. Trying to make the best of a dangerous world and then getting damned for 
it — that was the life story of the GILDED GENERATION. Twain himself later 
memorialized the Gilded childhood in his adventures of Tom Sawyer and 
Huckleberry Finn — pranks and pluck in a world of Aunt Becky ish elders. It 
didn’t change much with age. 

The Gilded lived perhaps the most luckless lifecycle in American history. 
First-wavers grew up too late to share the euphoria of the Transcendental Awak- 
ening — but in time to feel its damage as children. Two decades later, last-wavers 
grew up just in time to maximize their risk of death and maiming in the Civil 
War. They all came of age in an era of economic swings, floodtide immigration, 
and a darkening national mood. In rising adulthood, they bore the human burden 
of Transcendental conscience, becoming what Henry Adams described as a 
“generation . . . stirred up from its lowest layers.” Those who survived became 
what historian Daniel Boorstin calls “the Go-Getters” of the late 1860s, thirtyish 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


207 


buccaneers who had seen Union armies camp on Brook Farm and cannons 
annihilate the most decent of their peers. After Appomattox, writes Brooks, “the 
young men were scattering in all directions. Their imagination was caught by 
the West, and scores who might have been writers in the days of The Dial were 
seeking their fortunes in railroads, mines, and oil wells.” Principle seemed 
pointless next to the confession of the “Plumed Knight,” James Blaine: “When 
I want something, I want it dreadfully.” Blaine’s remark, notes historian Richard 
Hofstadter, “might have been the motto of a whole generation of Americans 
who wanted things dreadfully, and took them.” 

Inheriting the physical and emotional wreckage left behind by their elders, 
the Gilded entered midlife and reassembled the pieces — their own way. They 
muscled into political power, repudiated their elders’ high-flown dreams, rolled 
up their sleeves, and launched a dynamo of no-holds-barred economic progress 
to match their pragmatic mood. They reached the cusp of old age during the 
1890s, again an unlucky moment for their phase of life, when a rapidly growing 
share of all elderly landed in what Americans began calling an “industrial scrap 
heap.” With few means of public or private support, that is where many of them 
eked out their twilight years. “Let the chips fall where they may,” said Roscoe 
Conkling. By most indicators — wealth, higher education, lifespan — the Gilded 
fared worse at each phase of life than their next-elders or next-juniors, a sacrificial 
one-generation backstep in the chain of progress. No wonder they behaved, all 
their lives, like survivalists. Taking a cue from their laissez-faire guru William 
Graham Sumner, they learned to “root, hog, or die.” 

Throughout their lifecycle, and indeed ever since, the Gilded have been 
inundated by torrents of critical abuse. Before the Civil War, midlife Transcen- 
dental like Horace Mann charged that “more than eleven-twelfths” of them 
could not read, and George Templeton Strong saw in them “so much gross 
dissipation redeemed by so little culture.” Later on, Walt Whitman complained 
of their “highly deceptive superficial intellectuality,” and Longfellow accused 
their generation of taking America “back to the common level, with a hoarse 
death-rattle in its throat.” A younger Progressive, Henry James, accosted “that 
bright hard medal, of so strange an alloy, one face of which is somebody’s right 
and ease and the other somebody’s pain and wrong.” By the 1890s, the righteous 
reformers of a still younger (Missionary) generation rediscovered the old Tran- 
scendental theme of Gilded soullessness. Historians Charles Beard despised their 
“cash nexus,” Ralph Adams Cram their “mammonism,” Vernon Parrington 
their “triumphant and unabashed vulgarity without its like in our history.” Closer 
to our own time, Samuel Eliot Morison has written: “When the gilt wore off, 
one found only base brass.” The Gilded seldom answered such charges; in fact, 
their leading writers mostly agreed. In 1873, with rumpled heroes like Ulysses 
Grant and John D. Rockefeller riding high, Twain and his 35 -year-old coauthor 
Charles Dudley (“Deadly Warning”) Warner published a popular satirical book, 



GILDED GENERATION (Bom 1822 to 1842) 


TYPE: Reactive 

Total number: 17,000,000 
Percent immigrant: 28% 
Percent slave: 10% 


SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

1823 “Boss” Tweed (1878) 

1824 “Stonewall” Jackson (1863) 
1829 Roscoe Conkling (1888) 

1829 Levi Strauss (1902) 

1830 James G. Blaine (1893) 

1830 Emily Dickinson (1886) 

1830 “Mother Jones” (1930)* 

c. 1831 Sitting Bull (1890) 

1832 Louisa May Alcott (1888) 
1832 Horatio Alger ( 1 899) 

1835 Andrew Carnegie (1919)* 
1835 Mark Twain (1910) 

1837 J. Pierpont Morgan (1913) 

1837 “Wild Bill” Hickok (1876) 

1838 John Wilkes Booth (1865) 

1839 John D. Rockefeller (1937) 

1839 George Custer (1876) 

1840 Thomas Nast (1902)* 

1841 Oliver W. Holmes, Jr. (1935) 

1842 William James (1910) 

* = immigrant 


FAMILY TREE 

Typical grandparents: Republican 
Parents: Compromise and Transcendental 
Children: Progressive and Missionary 
Typical grandchildren: Lost 

PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

Plurality in House: 1869-1893 
Plurality in Senate: 1873-1903 
Majority of Supreme Court: 1890-1910 

U.S. PRESIDENTS: 1869-1897 

1822 Ulysses S. Grant (1885) 

1822 Rutherford B. Hayes (1893) 

1830 Chester A. Arthur (1886) 

1831 James A. Garfield (1881) 

1833 Benjamin Harrison (1901) 

1837 Grover Cleveland (1908) 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1828 Henrik Ibsen (1906) 

1832 Maximilian (1867) 

1832 Lewis Carroll (1898) 

1833 Alfred Nobel (1896) 

1839 Paul Cezanne (1906) 


Age 

Date 

HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

0-15 

1837 

Economic Panic of 1837; spiritual fervor recedes 

3-23 

1845 

Travel volume peaks along Oregon and Santa Fe trails 

6-26 

1848 

U.S. wins Mexican War; Irish immigration; California Gold Rush 

13-33 

1855 

Unofficial war in Kansas; Know-Nothing movement peaks 

18-38 

1860 

Pony Express riders hired; Lincoln elected; South Carolina secedes 

21-41 

1863 

51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing at Battle of Gettysburg 

27-47 

1869 

Grant takes office; golden spike laid in Utah 

29-49 

1871 

Peak year for cattle drives along Chisholm Trail 

34-54 

1876 

Custer massacred at Little Big Horn; Centennial Exposition 

35-55 

1877 

Hayes wins “stolen” election; South throws out carpetbaggers 

51-71 

1893 

Panic of 1893; Columbian Exposition 

69-89 

1911 

Supreme Court breaks up Standard Oil; Carnegie starts foundation 

SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: Little Women (Louisa May Alcott); The Adventures 
of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain); political cartoons (Thomas Nast); The Rise of Silas 
Lapham (William Dean Howells); “The Checkered Game of Life” (Milton Bradley); “The 
Outcasts of Poker Flat” (Bret Harte); The Gospel of Wealth (Andrew Carnegie); Luck and 


Pluck (Horatio Alger); The Oregon Trail (Francis Parkman); The Gilded Age (Mark Twain 
and Charles Dudley Warner); Home Insurance Building skyscraper (Le Baron Jenney) 




THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


209 


The Gilded Age , whose title perfectly described this generation of metal and 
muscle. 

Hit by pain and hard luck that seemed to justify all the critics, the Gilded 
suffered from low collective self-esteem. “I’m Nobody! Who are you?/ Are 
you — Nobody — too?” But Emily Dickinson’s peers were nobody’s fools. In 
their eyes, the central lesson of history was the devastation that inner passion 
can inflict on the outer world. They became skeptics, trusting principle less than 
instinct and experience. “As a rule we disbelieve all facts and theories for which 
we have no use,” wrote William James, who popularized “pragmatism” as a 
philosophy based on “truth’s cash value.” The Gilded played for keeps and 
asked for no favors. Their motto, as General Grant put it, was to strike “as hard 
as you can and as often as you can, and keep moving on.” When young, devilish 
raiders like Jeb Stuart delighted in cavalier foppery (black plumes and gold- 
threaded boots). When old, “robber barons” like Andrew Carnegie unabashedly 
proclaimed “the Law of Competition” as “the soil in which society so far has 
produced the best fruit.” Midlife apostles of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest,” 
the Gilded did not mind becoming a generation of spectacular winners and losers. 
Their ranks included those who struck gold and those who died trying; fugitive 
slaves and the posses chasing them; war profiteers and war widows; Pullman 
millionaires and sweating “coolies”; Irish immigrants and nativist mobs; General 
Custer and Sitting Bull. 

Twenty years after the young 49ers first reached San Francisco, Twain asked: 
“And where are they now? Scattered to the ends of the earth — or prematurely 
aged and decrepit — or shot and stabbed in street affrays — or dead of disappointed 
hopes and broken hearts — all gone, or nearly all — victims devoted upon the 
altar of the golden calf — the noblest holocaust that ever wafted its incense 
heavenward. It is pitiful to think upon.” Yet Twain’s “golden calf” peers dug 
the first oil, laid the golden spike, built the first business trusts, designed the 
first “skyscrapers” — and, most important, targeted most of their throat-cutting 
competition against their own peers. In so doing, the men and women of this 
self-demeaning generation gave chestiness to a modernizing nation and a much 
better life to their children. 


Gilded Facts 

• From youth to elderhood, the Gilded were more likely to die or fall into 
destitution than their parents at like age. They were also more likely to 
make a fortune starting out from nothing. According to C. Wright Mills, 
a larger share of their business elite came from lower- or lower-middle- 
class backgrounds than was the case in any earlier or later generation — 
including Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, James J. Hill, 
Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker. 



210 


GENERATIONS 


• With traditional apprenticeships dwindling in an era of rapid industrialization 

and cheap immigrant labor, many Gilded youth took to the streets and 
became the first generation of urban criminal gangs. By the 1840s, their 
violence prompted elders to organize the first big-city police forces and 
establish the first “reform” schools. “If the reform school differed at all 
from adult prisons,” observes historian Joseph Kett, “it was because chil- 
dren could be shipped off to the former not just for crimes but for general 
vagrancy and stubbornness.” 

• The Gilded include a larger share of immigrants (28 percent) than any other 

American generation since colonial times. To the East Coast came the first 
large influx of Irish Catholics, triggered by the Irish potato famine of the 
late 1840s; to the West Coast came the Chinese, hired on as laborers for 
the Union Pacific Railroad. 

• Suffering worsening nutrition as children, the adult height of the Gilded de- 

clined from first cohort to last. Later in life, the quest for protein became 
a generational obsession. The Gilded include America’s best-known can- 
nibals (A1 Packer and the Donner Party survivors); the founder of the King 
Ranch; the first Texas- to- Abilene cattle drivers; the first large-scale meat- 
packers (Gustavus Swift and Philip Armour); and, by the 1880s, the midlife 
beneficiaries of plunging beef prices. Shunning the lithe (Transcendental) 
physique, the aging Gilded celebrated the rotund body and the Delmonico 
steak dinner as a mark of success. In 1907, when the youngest Gilded had 
entered elderhood, U.S. life expectancy at age 65 declined to the shortest 
span ever measured (under 11.5 years). 

• Throughout their lifecycle, the Gilded defined today’s image of the western 

adventurer: from the youthful 49er and Pony Express rider before the Civil 
War, to the midlife rancher, cowboy, “bad man,” and Indian fighter of 
1870s, to the grizzled old mountaineer of 1900. 

• Gilded blacks include the first large population of American mulattoes (many, 

presumably, the children of white Compromiser fathers); the slave gener- 
ation that suffered most at the hands of white owners increasingly fearful 
of rebellion; the most celebrated 1850s-era slave fugitives; and, during the 
Civil War, the soldiers and officers of the first black regiments in North 
America. In the Reconstruction years, fifteen Gilded blacks were elected 
to Congress, a greater number than from any later generation until the Silent. 

• War hit the Gilded harder than any other American generation. They were the 

first American youths to be subject to conscription — and led the bloodiest 
antidraft riots in American history. Of the seven million Gilded men who 
reached combat age, roughly 10 percent died in the Civil War; one in fifteen 
in the Union states, nearly one in four in the Confederate states. Another 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


211 


5 percent ended the war in disease-ridden prisoner-of-war camps. Alto- 
gether, the number killed in more than six thousand Civil War battles 
exceeded the cumulative total for all other American wars — a per capita 
casualty rate equal to eight World War IIs combined. Nearly half the Gilded 
war dead were buried in unmarked graves. 

• In the generational landslide election of 1868, the median age of governors in 

the nine core Confederate states fell from 62 to 37. The Gilded include 
most of the postwar carpetbaggers and scalawags. 

• As ‘‘Victorian” stewards of the late-nineteenth-century American economy, 

the Gilded set an unmatched record for prudence and thrift. From the late 
1850s to the late 1890s, gross capital formation more than doubled as a 
share of GNP and the wholesale price index declined by one-third. From 
1866 to 1893, Gilded leaders and taxpayers sustained twenty-eight consec- 
utive federal surpluses — reducing the national debt by one-third and making 
theirs the only generation in American history to leave behind a smaller 
federal debt than it inherited. 


The Gilded Lifecycle 

YOUTH: “Children are commercial before they get out of their petticoats,” 
remarked visitor David MacRae of America’s Jacksonian-era children. “You 
will see a little girl of six show a toy to her companion, and say, gravely, ‘Will 
you trade?’ ” William Dean Howells later recalled how he and his friends grew 
up fast at a time when “the lowest-down boy in town could make himself master 
if he was bold and strong enough.” The young Gilded had little choice. Some 
were the casual offspring of experimental communities; others were hungry 
arrivals by boat. Nearly all of them, looking up at uncertain midlifers and self- 
absorbed rising adults, understood at an early age that they had better take care 
of themselves — if necessary, by scavenging in the cities or moving away to the 
frontier. Parents complained of their toughness, lawmakers decried the new flood 
of “street orphans” who mixed huckstering with crime, and in 1849 the New 
York police chief condemned “the constantly increasing number of vagrants, 
idle and vicious children of both sexes, who infest our public thoroughfares.” 
One writer described them as The Dangerous Classes of New York , “friendless 
and homeless. ... No one cares for them, and they care for no one.” Hearing 
elders moralize, Gilded youths steered clear of adults and practiced what many 
parents referred to (favorably) as “self-dependence.” Louisa May Alcott, lik- 
ening her impractical father (a utopian reformer in Emerson’s circle) to “a man 
up on a balloon,” secretly resolved as a girl “to take Fate by the throat and 
shake a living out of her.” Gilded students showed little of their next-elders’ 
interest in the cerebral. In the 1830s, farmers’ sons were grabbing get-rich 



212 


GENERATIONS 


manuals and bolting from their homes and schools at ever-earlier ages. By the 
1840s and 1850s, college attendance sank — and those who did arrive on campus 
made sure to keep forty ish reformers at bay. When Garrison and Longfellow 
came to speak, these collegians jeered and hissed. When teachers ordered them 
to pray, writes historian Frederick Rudolph, they responded with “deliberate 
absenteeism, indifference, disrespect, by ogling female visitors, the writing 
of obscene doggerel on the flyleaves of hymnals, by expectorating in the chap- 
el aisle.” Boasted one student at Brown: “We live in a perfectly indepen- 
dent way.” 

COMING OF AGE: “Of all the multitude of young men engaged in various 
employments of this city,” reported a Cincinnati newspaper in 1860, “there is 
not one who does not desire, and even confidently expect to become rich.” In 
the 1840s and 1850s, the Gilded came of age pursuing what the aging Com- 
promiser Washington Irving sarcastically called “the almighty dollar, that great 
object of universal devotion throughout our land.” These were frenetic years 
for 20-year-olds. Many stayed in the East, where they mingled with crowds of 
new immigrants, found jobs in new factories, and rode a roller-coaster economy. 
Others, alienated by rising land prices and intolerant next-elders, followed the 
“Go West, Young Man” maxim of Horace Greeley — perhaps the only Tran- 
scendental advice they considered sensible. During the Mexican War, they 
proved eager to fight for new territory (and to learn how to handle the new Colt 
“six-shooter”). While Emerson chastised “young men” who “think that the 
manly character requires that they should go to California, or to India, or into 
the army,” twenty ish Gilded adventurers were crying “Eureka!” and chasing 
the newfound mother lodes. The lucky got rich panning for metal, the cunning 
(like 21 -year-old Levi Strauss) by feeding and outfitting their desperado peers. 
Back across the still empty Great Plains, the Gilded added leather lungs to the 
polarizing debate over union — first as the core of the nativist “Young America” 
movement, next as “Know-Nothings” shouting their defiantly anti-Transcen- 
dental slogan “Deeds Not Words,” and finally as unpropertied “Lincoln shout- 
ers” and “hurrah boy” Republicans. In the North, they agreed with Lincoln’s 
argument that slavery posed a threat to free men everywhere — and were coaxed 
by the new party’s promises to enact a homestead law and build railroads. In 
the South, cries for battle rose from those whom Sherman darkly referred to as 
“young bloods” and “sons of planters” — “brave, fine riders, bold to rashness, 
and dangerous subjects in every sense” who “must be killed or employed by 
us before we can hope for peace.” Ranging in age from 19 to 39 in 1861, the 
Gilded were ready, in Twain’s words, “to make choice of a life-course & move 
with a rush.” Many volunteered for war, like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 
“because we want to realize our spontaneity and prove our power for the joy 
of it.” 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


213 


RISING ADULTHOOD: For the young Gilded, the first years of the Civil 
War were more dashing than bloody. Thirtyish commanders George McClellan 
and Stonewall Jackson enjoyed great popularity with their “Billy Yank” and 
“Johnny Reb” troops. Following the deadly battles of 1862-1863 and the first 
draft calls, however, the Gilded began to think twice about their prophetic next- 
elders. Ultimately, a bulldog Gilded general (Ulysses Grant) toughed out a 
reputation for slow wits and hard liquor by throttling “Gentleman Lee” — who 
surrendered just days before a self-loathing Gilded assassin (John Wilkes Booth) 
put an end to “Father Abraham.” Afterward, while 55-year-olds declaimed over 
principle, 35-year-olds saw mostly ruined farms, starving widows, diseased 
prisoners, dead bodies, and amputated limbs (carried away from Gettysburg by 
the wagonload). In the South, poet Henry Timrod described the postwar land- 
scape as “beggary, starvation, death, bitter grief, utter want of hope.” No 
southerner of Timrod’s generation would later emerge to prominence in any 
sphere of national life — business, science, letters, or politics. In the North, the 
Gilded went to work disarming the Transcendental leadership. After a 42-year- 
old senator, Edmund Ross, blocked the Radicals’ plot to impeach President 
Johnson, Gilded leaders dismantled Reconstruction and left their southern black 
peers to fend for themselves. The feisty women of this male-short generation 
focused their postwar energy on family solidarity and matured into the durable 
Scarlett O’Hara matrons of the Victorian era. The men found it harder to adjust. 
Some became rootless “bums” and “hobos,” wandering along newly built 
railways and evading postwar “tramp laws.” Others burst forth with bingelike 
rapacity — notorious “bad guys” (Wild Bill Hickok, William Quantrill), Indian 
fighters (Phil Sheridan, George Custer), and “robber barons” (Jim Fisk, Jay 
Gould). After the war, the Gilded purged their memory of elder zealots by 
turning their regional focus away from New England and by looking instead 
toward the busier, less talkative Midwest — especially Ohio, home to four of the 
six Gilded Presidents. Rutherford Hayes wrote from Cincinnati: “Push, labor, 
shove — these words are of great power in a city like this.” 

MIDLIFE: In 1876, the Gilded celebrated their midlife dominion with the 
Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. The Hall of Machines stood for bigness, 
strength, and worldliness — and not a hint of the Transcendental inner life that 
most Gilded still associated with meanness and tragedy. During the 1870s, Gilded 
survivalism turned conservative. Seeking an ethos suitable for a generation of 
scoundrels, they found it first in Charles Darwin’s “law of natural selection,” 
next in Herbert Spencer’s “social statics,” and most fully in the “pragmatism” 
of Charles Peirce and William James. Amid what was known as the “Victorian 
crisis of faith,” the Gilded played the game of life according to worldly measures 
of success. The first Wall Street financiers like John Pierpont Morgan and An- 
thony Drexel counted dollars; the first trust-builders like John D. Rockefeller 



214 


GENERATIONS 


and Andrew Carnegie counted sales; the first rail tycoons like Leland Stanford 
and James J. Hill counted miles of steel and tons of freight. The new wealth 
fortified a fiftyish up-from-nowhere elite that came to dominate both culture and 
politics, to the despair of their “Mugwump” critics. These new philistines 
eclipsed a succession of weak Presidents and tilted political power toward state 
and local governments. They crushed most dissenters, from genteel cosmopol- 
itans like Henry Adams to rural populists like “Sockless Socrates” Simpson. 
And by the 1880s, they reconciled themselves to a prudish morality promulgated 
by Frances Willard’s “Temperance” and “Social Purity” movements. The new 
standard stressed modesty, self-control, and a shameless reputation — requiring 
many of these fiftyish parents to hide (or at least leave unmentioned) their 
checkered personal histories. The Gilded midlife era ended in 1893 as it began — 
with a world’s fair, this time in Chicago. But a few months before it opened, 
the worst panic in living memory plunged the nation into sudden depression. 
When the fair’s opulence drew angry fire from the young, Charles Eliot Norton 
found a “decline of manners” and Mark Twain a “soul full of meanness” in 
an America now gripped by the Missionary Awakening. 

ELDERHOOD: “A new America,” complained Norton on the eve of the 
Spanish- American War, “is entering on the false course which has so often led 
to calamity.” In 1898, as young zealots pressed for an invasion of Cuba, virtually 
all of America’s aging Gilded luminaries (Twain, Cleveland, Carnegie, Sumner, 
James, Howells) urged peace and caution. But by now a new crop of Progressive 
leaders were listening to the zeal of youth, not the exhaustion of old-timers — 
and chose to “Remember the Maine,” not Gettysburg. As the century ticked 
to a close, Gilded conservatism gave way to the attacks of younger reformers. 
Old Sumner lamented that the bonds of close family loyalty, a source of strength 
and comfort to his peers after the Civil War, now attracted ridicule from fash- 
ionable social critics. College students romanticized a bucolic preindustrial 
past — a past the old Gilded knew had been wild and dangerous. Meanwhile, 
according to historian Andrew Achenbaum, the new century unleashed an “un- 
precedented devaluation” of the elderly: “Instead of extolling the aged’s moral 
wisdom” — as they had in the twilight years of Emerson and Longfellow — 
“commentators increasingly concluded that old people had nothing to contribute 
to society.” In a widely reprinted 1905 lecture, the Progressive William Osier 
wrote of “the uselessness of men above sixty years of age” and stressed “the 
incalculable benefits” of “a peaceful departure by chloroform.” Old Henry 
Adams complained that “young men have a passion for regarding their elders 
as senile.” Many Gilded elders heard themselves reviled as “old geezers” and 
“old fogies” — their elite as “old guard” senators, “standpatter” House mem- 
bers, and reform-blocking Supreme Court justices. Where prior generations of 
elders had typically worked until death (or were cared for by younger relatives 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


215 


on farms), many now faced an involuntary, pensionless “retirement” in a rapidly 
urbanizing economy that substantially favored young adults. As inept “soldier- 
ing” became a new insult in the workplace, inflation began eroding the real 
value of federal pensions to “Grand Army” veterans. “There is now no place 
in our working order for old men,” observed Edward Everett Hale in his sev- 
enties. Never asking for special favors, the old Gilded kept to themselves and 
rarely complained about their treatment. “Iam seventy,” confessed the otherwise 
acid-penned Mark Twain in 1905, “seventy and would nestle in the chimney 
comer . . . wishing you well in all affection.” 

* * * 

The enduring images of this generation conjure up rapacity, nihilism, and 
ugliness: Know-Nothings and Ku Klux Klanners; Union “bummers” and Quan- 
trill’s raiders; Credit Mobilier and the Salary Grab Act; gold spittoons and penny 
novels; carpetbaggers and scalawags; Boss Tweed’s machine and Morgan’s trust; 
“Half-Breed” James Blaine and “His Fraudulency” President Hayes. But low 
expectations and a negative self-image were all part of the Gilded game plan: 
to live according to their own pragmatic rules — and if that meant making massive 
lifecycle sacrifices, so be it. After all, their merciless competition favored fast- 
paced innovation; their city machines fed poor children; their business trusts and 
government surpluses favored huge investment in infrastructure and long-lived 
capital goods; their elder industrialists became fabled philanthropists; and their 
chromo culture protected the family — all benefits that would accrue not to them- 
selves (aside from a handful of flashy winners), but to their children. Neglected 
and brutalized early in life, this “bad” generation reached midlife power with 
every opportunity to indulge itself and let its children waste among the postwar 
ruins. Instead, the Gilded rebuilt America while mainly wasting each other. They 
became loud proponents of Social Darwinism just as they reached the threshold 
of elderhood — precisely the phase of life when “survival of the fittest” would 
plainly work to their own disadvantage. 

Few ever sought credit for lofty motives. Late in life, Justice Holmes admitted 
that he was a “Philistine” and “egotist.” Likewise, at age 64, even William 
James excoriated his peers for their “exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess 
SUCCESS.” Rather than be judged for how they felt, the Gilded preferred to 
be judged for what they built. Arriving in New York City in 1907, the elder 
James looked around at the commercial bustle and marveled: “in the center of 
the cyclone, I caught the pulse of the machine, took up the rhythm, and . . . 
found it simply magnificent.” By refusing to look beyond the material world, 
the Gilded sacrificed themselves bodily for their “machines” — mechanical, 
commercial, and political. This self-deprecation resulted in a very real kindness: 
to ensure that younger Progressives and Missionaries would enjoy far more 
affluence than the Gilded had themselves ever known. Their greatest failure late 
in life was not to realize that the high tide of laissez-faire growth would hurt all 



216 


GENERATIONS 


of society’s dependents, not only themselves as elders, but also a still younger 
(Lost) generation of children. The tots of the 1890s were about to embark on a 
lifecycle much like their own — a fact that would have pained the old Twains 
and Camegies had they known it. The Gilded lifecycle thus deserves the same 
warning that Twain’s “Notice to the Reader’’ offered for Huckleberry Finn: 
“Persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished.’’ 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


217 


PROGRESSIVE GENERATION 

Bom 1843-1859 
Type: Adaptive 

Age Location: 

Civil War Crisis in youth 
Missionary Awakening in midlife 

In the late 1860s, while Gilded railroad barons were building powerful lo- 
comotives and designing luxurious Pullman cars, 22-year-old George Westing- 
house invented an air brake to make trains safe. A few years later, at the 1876 
Philadelphia Centennial, the delicate inventions of 29-year-old Thomas Edison 
and 27-year-old Alexander Graham Bell drew more international acclaim than 
the huge Gilded steam turbines. Where the midlife Gilded liked to build things 
that rewarded society’s strongest and richest, these young tinkerers targeted their 
efforts toward the disadvantaged. Edison designed his arc light to assist the 
visually impaired, Bell his crude telephone to audibilize voices for the deaf. 
Westinghouse, Edison, and Bell lay at the vanguard of the PROGRESSIVE 
GENERATION, a cadre of fledgling experts and social meliorators as attuned 
to the small as their next-elders were to the big. Their leading figures, the forty ish 
Theodore Roosevelt and the sixtyish Woodrow Wilson, liked to describe them- 
selves as “temperate,” their designs as “moderate.” In politics as in family 
life, their inclination was to make life gentler and more manageable; their global 
credo (in Wilson’s memorable words) was to make the world “safe for democ- 
racy.” Like their inventor peers, Progressives believed that calibration and com- 
munication would eventually make America a nicer country. 

For a generation to assume such an other-directed mission required unusual 
sensitivity — and a collective identity of unusual malleability. Progressives ac- 
quired both, thanks to a lifecycle that located them in an odd warp of history. 
They were bom at the wrong time for authentic catharsis — too late for free- 
wheeling adventure, too soon for the youth-fired movements of the late nineteenth 
century. First- wavers were the keep-your-head-down teenagers of the Civil War; 
last-wavers came of age during the thickening social consensus of the 1870s. 
Through the 1880s, they became rising-adult partners to the Gilded in a fast- 
growing nation still gripped in a survivalist mentality. Their social role soon 
became clear: to apply their credentialed expertise toward improving what their 
next-elders had pioneered. They added “organization” to new corporations, 
“efficiency” to new assembly lines, “method” to new public agencies. Such 



PROGRESSIVE GENERATION (Bom 1843 to 1859) 


TYPE: Adaptive 

Total number: 22,000,000 
Percent immigrant: 27% 

Percent slave: 9% 

SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

1843 Henry James (1916) 

1843 Montgomery Ward (1913) 

1844 Henry Heinz (1919) 

1845 Mary Cassatt (1926) 

1846 George Westinghouse (1914) 

1846 Carry Nation (1911) 

1847 Thomas Edison (1931) 

1847 “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman (1918) 
1849 Alexander Graham Bell (1922)* 

1849 Crazy Horse (1877) 

1850 Samuel Gompers (1924)* 

1854 John Philip Sousa (1932) 

1855 Robert La Follette (1925) 

1855 Andrew Mellon (1937) 

1856 Booker T. Washington (1915) 
1856 Louis Brandeis (1941) 

1856 Frederick Winslow Taylor (1915) 

1857 Ida Tarbell (1944) 

1857 Clarence Darrow (1938) 

1859 John Dewey (1952) 

* = immigrant 


FAMILY TREE 

Typical grandparents: Compromise 
Parents: Transcendental and Gilded 
Children: Missionary and Lost 
Typical grandchildren: G.I. 

PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

Plurality in House: 1893-1909 
Plurality in Senate: 1903-1917 
Majority of Supreme Court: 1911-1923 

U.S. PRESIDENTS: 1897-1921 

1843 William McKinley (1901) 

1856 Woodrow Wilson (1924) 

1857 William Howard Taft (1930) 

1858 Theodore Roosevelt (1919) 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1853 Vincent van Gogh (1890) 

1854 Oscar Wilde (1900) 

1856 Sigmund Freud (1939) 

1859 Kaiser Wilhelm II (1941) 

1859 Henri Bergson (1941) 


Age 

Date 

0- 6 

1849 

4-20 

1863 

17-33 

1876 

20-36 

1879 

29-45 

1888 

37-53 

1896 

39-55 

1898 

42-58 

1901 

47-63 

1906 

53-69 

1912 

60-76 

1919 

66-82 

1925 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

Horace Mann completes “Massachusetts model” for public education 
Battle of Gettysburg; slaves emancipated 

Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins, “case method” law at Harvard 
“Big Business” economy surges; Edison invents light bulb 
Granger populism spreads; Frank Sprague invents electric trolley 
McKinley overwhelms Bryan on high-tariff, “sound-money” platform 
Sinking of Maine triggers Spanish-American War 
McKinley assassinated; Theodore Roosevelt becomes President 
Pure Food and Drug Act; Congress tightens regulation of railroads 
Roosevelt founds “Progressive” (Bull Moose) Party, loses to Wilson 
Treaty of Versailles; Wilson advocates the League of Nations 
Andrew Mellon proposes tax cuts; Darrow defends John Scopes 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: The Portrait of a Lady (Henry James); Babes in 
Toyland (Victor Herbert); “The Man with the Hoe” (Edwin Markham); The Reign of Law 
(James Lane Allen); “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” (Eugene Field); Uncle Remus (Joel 
Chandler Harris); Up from Slavery (Booker T. Washington); The School and Society (John 
Dewey); History of the Standard Oil Company (Ida Tarbell); The Theory of the Leisure Class 
(Thorstein Veblen); The Rough Riders (Theodore Roosevelt) 




THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


219 


value-free ideations would always define their life mission. John Dewey never 
ceased to delight in the “educative process,” William Howard Taft in “inter- 
preting” the law, Woodrow Wilson in “consulting the experts,” and Booker 
T. Washington in “constructive compromise.” Starting families at the height 
of the social and sexual conformism of the mid-Victorian era, they tried hard to 
take part in what they called “the progress of civilization” — progress that now 
required method over personality. “In the past the man has been first,” declared 
Frederick Winslow Taylor in his world-famous Principles of Scientific Manage- 
ment; “in the future the system must be first.” 

Their lifecycle had a decisive turning point: the turbulent 1890s and 1900s, 
when they embarked on anxious midlife passages and shifted their attention from 
age to youth. Stifled by the narrowed purpose of their younger years, they envied 
the passion of younger Missionaries while expressing relief in a newfound “lib- 
erty” that Wilson defined as “a process of release, emancipation, and inspiration, 
full of a breath of life . . . sweet and wholesome. ” Past age 40, many Progressives 
embraced new causes with joyful vigor, from political reform (Robert La Follette) 
and organized feminism (Harriot Blatch) to world peace (David Starr Jordan), 
temperance (the WCTU), and health foods (John Harvey Kellogg). Thanks to 
their efforts, lonely dissenters found genteel protectors like Clarence Darrow 
and Governor John Altgeld; “The Social Question” (even socialism itself) be- 
came a subject of polite dinner conversation; anticorporate populism gave birth 
to officious “regulations” and “commissions”; and anti-Gilded students dis- 
covered charismatic leaders willing to join their attack on Rockefeller (“the 
greatest criminal of the age,” cried La Follette) and Standard Oil (“bad capi- 
talism,” agreed Teddy Roosevelt). Reaching the age of leadership, Progressives 
often fretted over their next-juniors’ passion for reforms at home and crusades 
abroad. Overwhelmed by events and pushed out of power during World War I, 
Progressives entered elderhood trying to stay involved while nudging America 
back toward tolerance and conciliation. 

By the standards of their next-elders, the Progressives lived a lifecycle in 
reverse. They set out as sober young parents in the shadow of Reconstruction — 
attired in handlebar mustaches and tight corsets — and ended up as juvenating 
midlifers in an era of Rough Riders and gunboats, evangelism and trust-busting. 
Model Ts and hootchie-kootchie girls, Freud’s “talking cure” and Bergson’s 
elan vital. Taught young the importance of emotional self-control, they reached 
the new century probing desperately for ways to defy taboos, tell secrets, and 
take chances. In social life, the peers of Woodrow Wilson sought to expose 
scandal and “open up” the system by insisting that “there ought to be no place 
where anything can be done that everybody does not know about.” In economic 
life, the peers of Thorstein Veblen satirized the Gilded obsession with self-denial 
and savings, turning their attention toward leisure and consumption instead. In 
personal life, most of all, these uneasy midlifers spawned what historian Jackson 
Lears calls the “therapeutic world view” — a fear of “overcivilization,” a long- 



220 


GENERATIONS 


ing for the primitive, an obsession with releasing inner energies. While “TR” 
hunted elephants, Brooks Adams praised “barbarian blood,” and Populist leaders 
like Tom Watson goaded younger mobs to racial violence, psychologist G. 
Stanley Hall spoke of his peers’ “universal hunger for more life.” It was, 
admittedly, awkward to discover life at 50. “Faculties and impulses which are 
denied legitimate expression during their nascent period,” Hall explained, 
“break out well into adult life — falsetto notes mingling with manly bass as 
strange puerilities.” 

Mediators between two pushy generations, Progressives won respect for their 
intelligence and refinement. Yet so too did they make easy targets for their 
prissiness and indecision. Their academics were teased as “ Professor Tweetzers” 
and “Doctors of Dullness,” their frontier settlers as “tenderfeet” and “green- 
horns,” their good-government types as “goo-goos” and “Miss Nancys,” and 
their guilty liberals (like Joseph Fels, who promised to spend his “damnable 
money to wipe out the system by which I made it”) as “millionaire reformers” 
and “the mink brigade.” Younger Missionaries scorned their caution, William 
Randolph Hearst belittling President Wilson as “a perfect jackrabbit of politics, 
perched upon his little hillock of expedience . . . ready to run and double in any 
direction.” The older Gilded chided their midlife anxiety. During the 1880s, 
the Gilded Howells tweaked people who “now call a spade an agricultural 
implement” and wondered why “everyone is afraid to let himself go, to offend 
conventions, or to raise a sneer.” Watching 40-year-olds take up youthful sports 
during the next decade, the sixtyish Henry Adams likened the Progressive to 
“the bicycle-rider, mechanically balancing himself by inhibiting all his inferior 
personalities, and sure to fall into the subconscious chaos below, if one of his 
inferior personalities got on top.” 

Progressives spent midlife seeking such a “mechanical balance” — patching 
together Gilded realism with Missionary principle, blending the rugged West 
with the effete East. While Theodore Roosevelt demanded (in his late forties) 
an overcompensating manliness he labeled the “strenuous life,” his soft-life 
peers defined what came to be known as “genteel” yw de siecle American culture. 
The result was a self-conscious mixture of primness and toughness. At the close 
of the century, Charles Sheldon warned his peers to “be free from fanaticism 
on the one hand and from too much caution on the other.” 

“Neutral in fact as well as in name . . . impartial in thought as well as action.” 
Spoken before the country was prodded into World War I by a younger Congress, 
Wilson’s famous remark could be deemed the motto of this generation in public 
life. Exclude the young Missionary zealots, and circa- 1900 “Progressivism” 
stood for what historian Samuel Eliot Morison describes as an “adaptation . . . 
to the changes already wrought and being wrought in American society,” or 
what Robert Wiebe calls “the ambition of the new middle class to fulfill its 
destiny through bureaucratic means.” Most Progressive leaders liked calling 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


221 


themselves “middle-class,” just as they dreaded extremism and violence from 
either unions or corporations, Wobblies or Pinkertons. Far better, they thought, 
to push society forward through incremental consensus. “I do not believe you 
can do any good on an issue of this kind by getting too far in advance,” Roosevelt 
said of Prohibition, explaining how the public “will ultimately come to the 
national suppression of the liquor traffic and I am heartily with them when they 
do.” Even Wilson’s “high ideals” had less to do with moral outcomes than 
with the fair process by which competing ideals are reconciled. “If my convic- 
tions have any validity,” he declared, “opinion ultimately governs the world.” 
So the Progressives behaved, spending a lifetime listening to — and adjusting 
to — others. “Tell me what’s right,” Wilson told his younger aides en route to 
Versailles, “and I’ll fight for it.” 


Progressive Facts 

• Emulating the new vogue of Gilded rotundity in the early 1880s, young Pro- 

gressives read best-sellers like How to Be Plump and worshiped the chubby 
“Lillian Russell” female. Entering midlife, many slimmed down to look 
more youthful; others tried dieting but failed — including the 300-pound 
William Howard Taft, the fattest President in U.S. history. 

• The Progressives include the first sizable number of Americans to attend black 

colleges, women’s colleges, and land-grant colleges. They were also the 
first to earn graduate degrees in America and provided the Ph.D.-creden- 
tialed faculties that elevated American universities to their circa- 1900 era 
of maximum prestige — culminating in the election of America’s only Ph.D. 
President, Woodrow Wilson. 

• Between 1883 and 1893, four 34-to-37-year-olds produced several of Amer- 

ica’s most stirring paeans to patriotism: the Pledge of Allegiance (Francis 
Bellamy); America the Beautiful (Katherine Lee Bates); Semper Fidelis 
(John Philip Sousa), and the inscription on the Statue of Liberty (Emma 
Lazarus). As Bates wrote “confirm thy soul in self-control” and Lazarus 
about “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” their rising peers cau- 
tiously steered clear of electoral politics. In 1893, fifty years after their first 
birthyear, Progressives held only 39 percent of all national leadership posts 
(versus, at like age, 64 percent for Transcendental, 60 percent for Gilded, 
and 48 percent for Missionaries). 

• What historian Joseph Kett calls “the burgeoning of certification requirements 

after 1880” made this the first generation of industrial leaders who rose 
“not from the workbench but through successive layers of management.” 
The Progressives also accounted for the largest nineteenth-century expansion 



222 


GENERATIONS 


in lawyers, notably corporate legal experts who could advise Gilded tycoons. 
In 1860, America contained only nine law schools requiring more than one 
year of training; by 1880, fifty-six required three years of training. 

• Progressives provided the initial memberships for an extraordinary number of 

enduring fraternal, labor, academic, and (to use a word they popularized) 
“professional” associations, including the Elks Club, Knights of Columbus, 
Daughters of the American Revolution, Modem Language Association, 
American Historical Association, American Economics Association, Amer- 
ican Federation of Labor — and the first “professional” sports league, the 
National League of Professional Baseball Clubs. 

• Obsessive organizers, the Progressives invented the cash register, adding ma- 

chine, carbon paper, mimeograph, and first workable typewriter. They were 
the first generation to use time clocks at work and to carry timepieces on 
their person (“pocket” watches after 1870; “band” or “wrist” watches 
after 1900). In 1883, their young civil servants designed the federal system 
of four U.S. time zones. Later in life, Progressive Presidents founded the 
Bureau of Standards, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the first permanent 
Census office — and led the “Crusade for Standardization” during World 
War I. In 1928, an elderly Progressive founded the (Robert) Brookings 
Institute. Its purpose was “to collect, interpret, and lay before the country 
in clear and intelligent form the fundamental economic facts concerning 
which opinions need to be formed.” 

• Progressives included the large influx of Nordic immigrants who settled the 

upper Midwest and Great Plains late in the century. These states witnessed 
many of the Progressives’ midlife experiments in “populist” government 
and “liberal” Republicanism. 

• A Progressive (John Gates) invented barbed wire in the 1880s. The subsequent 

“battle of the barbed wire” between cattle ranchers and wheat farmers was 
typically a dispute between tough-as-nails midlife Gilded and law-abiding 
(“Let’s elect a sheriff”) rising-adult Progressives. 

• At the turn of the century, the term “middle age” began to indicate a phase 

of life (roughly, age 40 to 60) and soon appeared frequently in popular 
periodicals. Much of the interest focused on feelings of disorientation, in 
such articles as “On Some Difficulties Incidental to Middle Age” (1900), 
“On Being Middle-Aged” (1908), and “The Real Awkward Age” (1911). 
In their forties and fifties, many of the best-known Progressives experienced 
what would now be described as “midlife crises” or “nervous depres- 
sions” — including Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Josiah Royce, 
G. Stanley Hall, Brooks Adams, and Frederick Winslow Taylor. 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


223 


• According to historian Nathan Hale, Jr., the Victorian ethos of continence and 
sexual purity weighed most heavily on Americans “bom from the 1840s 
to the early 1860s” — making this a generation for whom the prim Anthony 
Comstocks set the early tone. The psychic cost of this smothering childhood 
first appeared in the late 1880s and 1890s — which, for fortyish Progressives, 
was an era of sharply rising divorce rates, and an epidemic of “neuras- 
thenia” and female “hysteria” (often “treated” by uterectomies and hys- 
terectomies). After the Spanish- American War, concern over “overstress” 
and “mental cancer” (what the Atlantic Monthly described as “our now 
universal disorder, nervous prostration”) sparked a growing interest in 
mind-cure fads, from hypnotism and psychotherapy to dream analysis and 
rest cures. In 1909, the sixty ish psychologist G. Stanley Hall invited an 
eminent European peer to lecture in America. Sigmund Freud’s tour was a 
media sensation. 


The Progressive Lifecycle 

YOUTH: “A hundred wills move at once simultaneously” with “an ac- 
curacy that was really amazing,” observed one visitor to Civil War-era American 
schools. As the national mood veered toward war, youths understood that risky 
behavior could trigger adult rebuke — which, in turn, could bring lifelong pen- 
alties. Instead of describing American children as precocious or ill-mannered, 
as they had two decades before, foreigners began remarking how “the most 
absolute obedience and the most rigid discipline prevail in all American schools.” 
Midlife Transcendentals demanded compulsory attendance laws (first enacted by 
Massachusetts in 1853 for all children under age 10), led the “high school 
movement” in the late 1850s, and generally insisted on more orderly child 
behavior than earlier teachers had demanded of the Gilded. They also popularized 
the custom of issuing report cards in order to bring parental authority to bear on 
child discipline. The leading parenting guide, written by Transcendental Horace 
Bushnell, described children as “formless lumps” equally capable of good and 
evil, requiring careful guidance within the “organic unity of the family.” The 
child environment — already becoming more planned and protected — was 
abruptly pushed to suffocation by the Civil War. This implosion in family life 
reflected what historian Joseph Kett calls the midcentury “desire of middle-class 
Americans to seal their lives off from the howling storm outside.” The storm 
raged worst for Confederate children, many of whom lived with the fear of 
marauding armies — or who, as teenagers, became the homesick and traumatized 
kid soldiers of bloody campaigns late in the war. The extended wartime absence 
(or death) of fathers gave mothers a stronger role in the child’s world. As the 
Transcendental Catharine Beecher warned against turning over children to 



224 


GENERATIONS 


“coarse, hard, unfeeling men,” many a war-era ballad idealized “Mother” as 
the embodiment of social order. 

COMING OF AGE: The shell-shocked children of the Civil War reached 
their twenties eager to please adults, who advised them (in the words of one 
Sunday-school spokesman) to show “neither excesses nor defects in your char- 
acter, but a harmonious blending, a delightful symmetry, formed of fitting pro- 
portions of every high quality.” Progressives passed from youth to adulthood 
between the late 1860s and the early 1880s, a time of mounting social consensus 
in favor of Victorian rectitude in personal (and sexual) behavior. “Within my 
own remembrance,” recalled an older YMCA official, boys had to “go through 
fermentation before they could afford to be good.” But now, he observed, “they 
are to carry from the cradle to the grave an unblemished name, with unblemished 
morals.” Kett notes how “the old idea that youth was a time for sowing wild 
oats, that an excess of prohibitions in youth merely produced an erratic adult, 
had no place in the thought of midcentury moralists.” As colleges regained the 
popularity and discipline they had lost during the antebellum decades, Progres- 
sives became the nineteenth century’s most docile students — preoccupied with 
grades, prizes, school spirit, and newly practical course work. Arming themselves 
with impressive credentials, they hoped to make up in expertise what they 
obviously lacked in ruggedness. Whether as clerks in growing corporations or 
as dry-land farmers along a disappearing frontier, young Progressives generally 
failed to find authentic adventure — like Theodore Roosevelt, who arrived in the 
Dakota Territory “but little over half a dozen years since these lands were won 
from the Indians.” Even the best-known Progressive outlaws, from Jesse James 
to Billy the Kid, were less loathed (and certainly less feared) than the original 
Gilded marauders. After the late 1 860s, most indices of crime and disorder began 
falling well below their prewar levels. Few young Progressive men could bear 
a sullied conscience. After marrying at age 22, Theodore Roosevelt thanked 
heaven he was “absolutely pure. I can tell Alice everything I have ever done.” 

RISING ADULTHOOD: Through the 1870s and 1880s, the growing size 
and complexity of the industrial economy sparked a rising demand for the tech- 
nical skills in which Progressives had been trained to excel. America was overrun 
with young lawyers, academics, teacher trainers, agronomists, and the first-ever 
cadre of “career” civil servants and Congressional staffers. Where the Gilded 
had gambled fortunes as rowdy miners, financiers, and self-made industrialists, 
the Progressives arrived as metallurgists, accountants, and “time and motion 
men” in the manner of Frederick Winslow Taylor. What Gilded young adults 
had achieved two decades earlier in capital goods, thirty ish Progressives achieved 
in retailing: H. J. Heinz’ “57 varieties” of food, F. W. Woolworth’s five-and- 
ten-cent stores, James Duke’s dainty machine-rolled cigarettes, and Montgomery 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


225 


Ward’s 240-page catalogue for farmers (plus his new “money-back guarantee”). 
More alert to the risk of failure than the like-aged Gilded had been, Progressives 
became America’s late-nineteenth-century bet-hedgers, definers of social con- 
science, and organizers of risk-spreading associations. “Grangers” founded the 
first rural co-ops. Samuel Gompers, after taking part in a failed strike, “began 
to realize the futility of opposing progress” and founded the modem trade union 
movement. Writers like Henry Demarest Lloyd ( Wealth Against Common- 
wealth ), Jacob Riis (How the Other Half Lives), and George Cable ( The Silent 
South) exposed the costs of untamed economic growth and urged a weepy ethos 
of social cooperation — “a humane movement,” wrote Edward Bellamy in Look- 
ing Backward, “a melting and flowing forth of men’s hearts toward one another. ’ ’ 
In return, while proper young ladies suffered under stultifying sex-role defini- 
tions, dandified young men were accused of being what historian Geoffrey 
Blodgett calls the “Gelded Men” of the Gilded Age. Only when economic 
depression struck did the core of this fortyish and fiftyish generation directly 
challenge their war- veteran elders. They staged the realigning elections of 1894 
and 1896, sweeping the McKinley Republicans — and his Progressive peers — 
into power. 

MIDLIFE: Having spent half their lifecycle adapting to a Gilded-built world. 
Progressives entered midlife taking their cues from the young. In the mid- 1890s, 
McKinley resolved to follow “the best aspirations of the people” by siding with 
young “jingoes” in a war against Spain. He and his three White House successors 
entangled themselves in position shifts by alternately urging and then hedging 
on subsequent Missionary causes, from child labor and woman’s suffrage to 
Prohibition and immigration. Preoccupied with public opinion, they backed the 
genial procedural reforms of the “Progressive Era”: initiatives and referenda, 
direct election of senators, the “open playing field’’ of antitrust, and expert-run 
regulatory commissions. Many Progressives, emerging as effete caricatures of 
late- Victorian manhood, continued to pursue what scientist Albert Michelson 
termed “the sixth place of the decimal” — or, like Melvil Dewey, precise systems 
for cataloguing knowledge. Others veered toward the other extreme. After lead- 
ing younger “rough riders” up San Juan Hill, Theodore Roosevelt attacked the 
“men of soft life.” Just after the turn of the century, he appointed a Commission 
on Country Life, led a youth-envying “cult of strenuosity,” and encouraged 
Missionary zealots he labeled “muckrakers.” Meanwhile, many midlife women 
broke free from convention and threw their support behind a budding feminist 
movement. Kate Chopin, widow and mother of six, wrote The Awakening, whose 
heroine protests the duality of the “outward existence which conforms, the 
inward life which questions.” The last Progressive President, Woodrow Wilson, 
managed World War I in the complex manner of his generation — surrounded 
by diplomats, lawyers, journalists, statisticians, and public-private associations. 



226 


GENERATIONS 


Afterward, Wilson tried to secure a “peace without victory” in which multilateral 
process would forever replace violent conflicts of principle. Younger voters 
showed little interest in his League of Nations proposal, and a 79 percent Mis- 
sionary Congress buried it for good. 

ELDERHOOD: The 1920s did little roaring for those who, like writer Sarah 
Ome Jewett, were “wracked on the lee shore of age.” Poverty remained high 
among the elderly, but their overall income distribution was more even than 
among the Gilded, and the younger public grew more willing to discuss their 
hardships sympathetically, especially the question of what to do with elderly 
“in-laws.” As always, Progressives approached their economic status with fore- 
sight and planning (in lieu of the Gilded winner- take-all ethos). Around 1910 
they began a vast expansion in private pension plans, and by the time they retired 
they became the first non veteran generation to receive significant pension income. 
Many elder Progressives — like Hall, who admired the young flappers and cul- 
tivated “zests” like walking barefoot — continued to watch and emulate the 
young. “Reversing age-old custom,” notes Mark Sullivan, the chronicler of 
Wilson-era America, “elders strove earnestly to act like their children, in many 
cases their grandchildren.” Their main message to juniors was to stay calm, 
keep faith in the democratic process, and listen to expertise. The eighty ish Elihu 
Root kept lecturing the young on the importance of a “World Court,” while 
Frank Kellogg promoted an arcane disarmament process (what one senator called 
“an international kiss”) that would later impair America’s ability to respond to 
Hitler. Their senior statesmen issued calls to humanity and fairness that were 
not always observed — for example, Franz Boas’ defense of cultural pluralism 
against eugenics-minded Missionaries. “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in 
insidious encroachment by men of zeal,” warned Louis Brandeis, defending 
“the process of trial and error.” Meanwhile, old Florence Kelley called herself 
“the most unwearied hoper,” and old John Dewey unflaggingly pursued “lib- 
eralism” as “committed to an end that is at once enduring and flexible.” In 
their final years, the greatest Progressive thinkers lacked final answers about 
life — and had the humility to admit it. 

* * * 

“The muddled state is one of the very sharpest of the realities,” Henry James 
once observed. Indeed, his own generation remains saddled with a “muddled” 
image, often blurred together with the burly Gilded or zealous Missionaries. 
Combining a belief in fairness, openness, and what Ella Wheeler Wilcox called 
“just the art of being kind,’’ Progressives gave the Gilded Age its human face 
and helped make the Missionary Awakening an age of reform and not revolution. 
Their fascination with process and detail provided a mediating link between their 
“build big’’ next-elders and their “think big” next-juniors. Much of their con- 
tribution hinged on their ability to see “out of the confusion of life” what James 
described as “the close connection of bliss and bale, of the things that help with 



THE CIVIL WAR CYCLE 


227 


the things that hurt.” Yet they also waffled in the face of rapid social change. 
Vacillating on foreign policy and unwilling to forgo “cheap labor” immigrants, 
they invited the floodtide of jingoism and racism that swept over America at the 
turn of the century. Their accommodation of “separate but equal” Jim Crow 
laws sealed the fate of southern blacks. And their uncertain parental hand left 
Lost children vulnerable to cruel economic abuse. But their irrepressible belief 
in human perfectibility gave a powerful boost to the liberal side of the modem 
American character. Collectively, Progressives shared a quality once affixed to 
Uncle Remus author Joel Chandler Harris: “the seal of good humor . . . and a 
pleasant outlook on the world.” 

The Progressives never saw themselves as heroes or prophets. Rather, they 
saw themselves as a modem cadre of value-free meliorators who could link 
progress to expertise, improvement to precision. “The science of statistics is 
the chief instrumentality through which the progress of civilization is now mea- 
sured,” declared Census chief Simon Newton Dexter North in 1902, “and by 
which its development hereafter will be largely controlled.” Late in life, as the 
world lurched toward chaos, old Progressives sometimes questioned such cer- 
tainty. In 1914, the 71 -year-old Henry James wrote to a friend, “You and I, 
the ornaments of our generation, should have been spared the wreck of our belief 
that through the long years we had seen civilization grow and the worst become 
impossible. The tide that bore us along was then all the while moving to this as 
its grand Niagara.” Yet what few Progressives ever lost — no matter how old — 
was their urge to stay involved and thereby overcome a feeling that they had 
missed something early in life. “I don’t regret a single ‘excess’ of my responsive 
youth,” added James. “I only regret, in my chilled age, certain occasions and 
possibilities I didn’t embrace.” 



Chapter 10 


THE GREAT 
POWER CYCLE 


//y 

A he Atomic Age began at exactly 5:30 a.m. Mountain War Time on the 
morning of July 15th, 1945, on a stretch of semidesert land about 50 airline 
miles from Alamogordo, New Mexico,” wrote New York Times reporter William 
Laurence (age 57) of the first moment “the earth had opened and the skies had 
split.” Another man of blunt and staccato expression, President Harry Truman 
(age 61), took the news impassively and prepared to order the two remaining 
bombs dropped on Japan. When 77-year-old Secretary of War Henry Stimson 
was informed, he dispatched a coded message to Winston Churchill at Potsdam: 
“Babies satisfactorily bom” — to which the like-aged British Prime Minister 
replied: “This is the Second Coming, in wrath.” Standing nearby at the New 
Mexico test site, meanwhile, was the scientist whose organized mind had or- 
chestrated the first atomic fireball, 41 -year-old J. Robert Oppenheimer. Asked 
for his thoughts, Oppenheimer recalled a Hindu description of deity: “If the 
radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky, that would be the splendor 
of the Mighty One.” Added another young physicist, “The sun doesn’t hold a 
candle to it!” Several weeks later, 19-year-old Russell Baker was training for 
a massive and bloody invasion of Japan when he heard of the Nagasaki blast 
and Japan’s sudden capitulation. He wrote to his mother in a mixture of open 
relief and secret vexation: “It seems like I’m pulling some monstrous joke on 
myself when I say the war is over, because I really can’t believe it.” These 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


229 


whirlwind weeks marked the dawn of “Superpower America,” the climactic 

moment of the GREAT POWER CYCLE: 

• Henry Stimson’s visionary MISSIONARY GENERATION (Idealist, then age 

63 to 85) had originally ordered the A-bomb’s development. These were 
the patriarchs of the national struggle, the dark figures in newsreel footages, 
the stem elder leaders who provided guidance for what seemed to be the 
very defense of Christian civilization. If the use of atomic weapons raised 
any moral questions, Americans of all ages trusted this generation to answer 
them. A couple of years earlier, President Franklin Roosevelt had asked 
several grayheads — most notably, James Byrnes, George Marshall, and 
Stimson himself (average age, 70) — to examine the A-bomb “in terms of 
a new relationship with the universe.” While the bombs were being built, 
only Albert Einstein (age 66) could worry out loud about what the atom 
might unleash; anyone younger would have been instantly suspected of 
disloyalty. Afterward, the craggy Douglas MacArthur saw redemptive 
power in this new and terrible “crucible of war,” capable of forcing man- 
kind to face a dilemma that “is theological and involves a spiritual recru- 
descence.” Weeks later, in Tokyo, he administered what he termed history’s 
“first Christian occupation” of an Asian land, bringing to “our vanquished 
foe the solace and hope and faith of Christian morals.” 

• Harry Truman’s get-it-done LOST GENERATION (Reactive, age 45 to 62) 

provided the war effort’s pragmatic midlife generals, including the gruff 
careerist Leslie Groves, who managed the Manhattan Project. “The war’s 
over,” said Groves after a glance at the test blast. “One or two of those 
things and Japan will be finished.” Truman delighted that America had 
“spent two billion dollars on the biggest scientific gamble in history — and 
won.” Groves, Truman, and their midlife peers understood that America 
looked to them less for Roosevelt-like vision than for Patton-like action. 
“To err is Truman,” chided many editorials two months earlier after this 
relative unknown had become Commander in Chief and had first learned 
of the A-bomb project (a secret none of FDR’s seventy ish cabinet had 
bothered to share with him). Yet unlike his elders, President Truman knew 
from personal experience what human slaughter might accompany a yard- 
by-yard conquest of the Japanese mainland. So he “let the buck stop” with 
him — and ordered Hiroshima bombed. Soon enough, Truman and his peers 
would cope with further thankless tasks: cleaning up after the debris left 
by FDR’ s visionary Y alta plan , eyeballing the Soviets with a gaming ‘ ‘brinks- 
manship” that younger leaders would deride as irrational, and keeping 
America on a steady, cautious course while hearing the expressions “old,” 
“tired,” and “reactionary” hurled at them. No big deal: The Lost had 
grown used to such negative judgments. 



230 


GENERATIONS 


• Robert Oppenheimer’s smart and dutiful G.I. GENERATION (Civic, age 21 

to 44) provided the team of scientists responsible for this “Mighty One.” 
Here stood the greatest power man had ever possessed — and they had 
created it. Without their heroism, the use of the bomb and the subsequent 
elevation of America to superpower status would not have been possible. 
Over the past three years, swarms of uniformed young men (average age, 
26) had conquered the entire Pacific. Rosie the Riveter women had assem- 
bled bombers and battleships to arm them. Seabees had built bases out of 
jungles and barren reefs, including Tinian, where the Enola Gay took off 
for Hiroshima. The pilot of the first A-bomb-laden bomber, Paul Tibbets, 
was himself a ribbon-laced 30-year-old. Several years after their “gadget” 
had humiliated the Tokyo warlords, G.I.s would take it a step further by 
designing the H-bomb. They would call it “the Super” and the G.I. trio 
who designed it (Edward Teller, Luis Alvarez, and Oppenheimer) “Super- 
men” — a fitting image for a generation whose reason and teamwork had 
unleashed the ultimate energy of pure matter. Later in life, the G.I.s would 
harness their collective might and labor to fulfill their elders’ vision by 
building a gleaming “Great Society” of peace, prosperity, and friendli- 
ness — only to hear their own children attack its spiritual emptiness. 

• The eldest among Russell Baker’s aspiring SILENT GENERATION (Adaptive, 

age 3 to 20) knew the A-bomb blasts had spared them from harm — and 
equally from any chance to match their next-elders in glory and heroism. Al- 
though they hadn’t invented this monster, henceforth what William Styron 
called “the almost unimaginable presence of the bomb” would symbolize 
their coming-of-age sense of powerlessness, irony, and nonjudgmental rel- 
ativism. Two decades later, while thirty ish Pentagon technicians designed 
“fail-safe delivery systems” to prevent nuclear weapons from atomizing the 
very people they were supposed to protect, thirty ish artists would try to re- 
lease their collective tension in sentimental lyrics and ironic humor. Peter, 
Paul, and Mary would wistfully sing Where Have All the Flowers Gone?; 
Barry McGuire Eve of Destruction; and Tom Lehrer So Long Mom (“I’m off 
to drop the bomb”). In another song, Lehrer quipped of an eminent G.I. sci- 
entist: ‘ ‘ ‘Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? / That’s 
not my department,’ says Wemher von Braun.” It would become the Si- 
lent’s own “department” to worry about what happens when powerful 
things “come down” on people — from Carl Sagan warning against “nu- 
clear winter” to Michael Harrington and Martin Luther King, Jr., arguing 
that money spent on bombs should be spent instead on the poor. 


The start of the nuclear age marked the culmination of a generational drama 
that was by then nearly six decades old. It opened in the late 1880s, when a 
generation of indulgently raised post-Civil War youths triggered revivalism, 



FIGURE 10-1 

Great Power Cycle: Age Location in History 


SECULAR SPIRITUAL SECULAR SPIRITUAL 

CRISIS AWAKENING CRISIS AWAKENING 



Civil Missionary Depression, Boom 

War Awakening World War II Awakening 

Crisis Crisis 


to 


THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 



232 


GENERATIONS 


labor unrest, and the “Cross of Gold” paroxysm of William Jennings Bryan. 
What Roosevelt described as “a mysterious cycle” of generational “destiny” 
extended into the unrivaled “Pax Americana” of the mid-1960s, right up to 
LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam War. At the beginning of this ninety-year epoch, 
the Old World still regarded the United States as a frontier society, at best a 
minor player in world affairs. By its end, the United States had emerged as a 
great global power, fueled by the world’s most productive economy and armed 
with the world’s most formidable defense establishment. 

The Great Power Cycle contained two social moments: 

• The Missionary Awakening (1886-1903) or “Third Great Awakening” began 

in 1886 with the Haymarket Riot and the launching of the global student 
missionary movement. By 1893, a combination of agrarian protests and 
urban labor violence sparked the tumultuous 1 890s, a decade historian Henry 
Steele Commager considers a “cultural watershed” in American history 
and historian Richard Hofstadter calls a “searing experience” to those who 
lived through it. Following Bryan’s revivalist run for President in 1896, the 
awakening pushed a young, excited cadre of “muckraking” writers and 
reformers into the public eye just after the turn of the century. During 
Theodore Roosevelt’s first term, these youth movements crested, and the 
awakening ended. As the rising generation lost interest in “progressive” 
reforms, and especially after the financial panic of 1907, the national mood 
sobered. Meanwhile, the awakening had given birth to the Bible Belt, to 
Christian socialism, to Greenwich Village, to Wobblies, and to renascent 
labor, temperance, and women’s suffrage movements. LOCATION IN HIS- 
TORY; Gilded in elder hood; Progressives in midlife; Missionaries in rising 
adulthood; Lost in youth . 

• The Great Depression-World War II Crisis (1932-1945) reached from the 

economic trough of 1932 through the triumph of VJ-Day in 1945, roughly 
spanning the thirteen-year Presidential reign of Franklin Roosevelt. It began 
in a mood of despair and pessimism about the future, stretched through the 
New Deal (“the Third American Revolution,” according to historian Carl 
Degler), climaxed in a total war against totalitarianism, and ended at the 
dawn of a new era of power, affluence, and global leadership. One of every 
eight Americans now alive came of age during this era. Most of them recall 
how the mid- 1940s ushered in an exhilarating sense of collective triumph, 
feelings those younger than themselves have never known. From the moment 
the crisis peaked, the rising peer elite began assuming leadership positions, 
leading ultimately to a “new generation” taking the White House in 1961 — 
a post they still hold three decades later. LOCATION IN HISTORY : Mis- 
sionaries in elderhood; Lost in midlife; G.I.s in rising adulthood; Silent in 
youth. 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


233 


MISSIONARY GENERATION 

Bom 1860-1882 
Type: Idealist 

Age Location: 

Missionary Awakening in rising adulthood 
Great Depression-World War II Crisis in elderhood 

In 1896 — as the aging Gilded elite reeled from labor violence, student evan- 
gelism, and agrarian revivals — 36-year-old William Jennings Bryan swept to 
the Democratic Presidential nomination with an exhortation that was as gener- 
ational as it was partisan: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor 
this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” The 
“Boy Orator of the Platte” then added, in a slap at McKinley’s Progressives, 
“We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them.” 
With these words, Bryan’s coming-of-age MISSIONARY GENERATION 
pushed to a climax its passionate attack on the soulless Darwinism of Gilded 
elders. George Herron, the 27-year-old “Prophet of Iowa College,” challenged 
“the wicked moral blindness of our industrialism.” The thirtyish Jane Addams, 
“Our Mother Emancipator from Illinois,” launched social reforms from Hull 
House. In The Octopus, The Jungle, and Shame of the Cities, Frank Norris, 
Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens lashed out with a literary venom not seen 
since the early writings of Whitman and Thoreau. Meanwhile, thousands of their 
young peers were forming what essayist John Jay Chapman termed a “galaxy 
and salvation army of militant benevolence” with “an inner life and social 
atmosphere peculiar to itself, its tone and mission.” As some youths summoned 
forth a “Kingdom of God,” others shouted anarchist slogans, threw bombs, 
lynched blacks, and called for the conquering of heathen lands. The aspiring 
youth elite simply absorbed the mood, enjoying “the bright college days” of a 
noisy decade they would afterward remember as the “Gay Nineties” — at Stan- 
ford (Herbert Hoover), West Point (Douglas Mac Arthur), and Harvard (Franklin 
Roosevelt). 

Missionaries first appeared as the welcomed postwar youngsters of the late 
1860s and 1870s. Indulgently raised and educated by the midlife Gilded in a 
world of orderly families and accelerating prosperity, they came of age horrified 
by what George Cabot Lodge called “a world of machine-guns and machine- 
everything-else” and what Stephen Crane, gazing at a coal mine, called “this 
huge and hideous monster . . . grinding its mammoth jaws with unearthly and 



MISSIONARY GENERATION (Bom 1860 to 1882) 


TYPE: Idealist 

Total number: 45,000,000 
Now alive in U.S.: 1,000 
Percent immigrant: 23% 

Percent slave: 1% 

SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

1860 William Jennings Bryan (1925) 
1860 Jane Addams (1935) 

1863 Billy Sunday (1935) 

1863 William Randolph Hearst (1951) 
1863 Henry Ford (1947) 

1868 W.E.B. DuBois (1963) 

1869 Frank Lloyd Wright (1959) 

1869 Emma Goldman (1940)* 

1871 Theodore Dreiser (1945) 

1871 Orville Wright (1948) 

1875 Mary McLeod Bethune (1955) 
1878 Isadora Duncan (1927) 

1878 Upton Sinclair (1968) 

1879 Albert Einstein (1955)* 

1879 Margaret Sanger (1966) 

1880 Douglas MacArthur (1964) 

1880 John Llewellyn Lewis (1969) 
1880 H.L. Mencken (1956) 

1880 Helen Keller (1968) 

1880 George C. Marshall (1959) 

* = immigrant 


FAMILY TREE 

Typical grandparents: Transcendental 
Parents: Gilded and Progressive 
Children: Lost and G.I. 

Typical grandchildren: Silent 

PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

Plurality in House: 1909-1937 
Plurality in Senate: 1917-1943 
Majority of Supreme Court: 1925-1943 

U.S. PRESIDENTS: 1921-1945 

1865 Warren G. Harding (1923) 

1872 Calvin Coolidge (1933) 

1874 Herbert Hoover (1964) 

1882 Franklin D. Roosevelt (1945) 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1869 Mahatma Gandhi (1948) 

1870 V.I. Lenin (1924) 

1874 Winston Churchill (1965) 

1875 Albert Schweitzer (1965) 

1881 Pablo Picasso (1973) 


Age 

Date 

0- 2 

1862 

0-16 

1876 

4-26 

1886 

10-32 

1892 

14-36 

1896 

16-38 

1898 

23-45 

1905 

38-60 

1920 

51-73 

1933 

59-81 

1941 

63-85 

1945 

69-91 

1951 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

Battle of Antietam; Morrill Act grants land for state colleges 
Hall of Machines featured at Philadelphia Exposition 
Haymarket Riot; student missionaries organize; Little Lord Fauntleroy 
Homestead Massacre; agrarian populism expands; 161 blacks lynched 
Bryan wins Democratic nomination; revivalist campaign loses election 
Spanish-American War; Hearst papers push “jingo” fever 
Haywood founds IWW; DuBois founds Niagara Movement 
Palmer raids; women’s suffrage; Prohibition begins 
Roosevelt launches New Deal, scraps antitrust; Prohibition ends 
Lend-Lease Act; attack on Pearl Harbor; U.S. enters World War II 
Roosevelt dies; Axis powers surrender; Baruch announces “Cold War” 
Peak foreign aid under Marshall Plan; MacArthur fired by Truman 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: Intolerance (film, D. W. Griffith); “Into My 
Own” (Robert Frost); Prejudices (H. L. Mencken); Sister Carrie (Theodore Dreiser); 
syndicated column (Will Rogers); The Shame of the Cities (Lincoln Steffens); Living My Life 
(Emma Goldman); “What I Believe” (Albert Einstein); Women and the New Race (Margaret 
Sanger); Beale Street Blues (W. C. Handy); The Souls of Black Folk (W.E.B. DuBois); “I 
Am the People, the Mob” (Carl Sandburg); The Last Puritan (George Santayana) 




THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


235 


monotonous uproar.” This inner rebellion of “moral” sons against “laborious” 
fathers, recalled best-selling American novelist Winston Churchill in 1908, trig- 
gered “the springing of a generation of ideals from a generation of commerce.” 
Missionary first- wavers, leavened by the first large influx of non- Anglo Saxon 
white immigrants, entered their twenties as preachy student leaders, rebellious 
career women, and Haymarket rioters. Last- wavers reached adulthood while the 
fires of Chautauqua revivalism, muckraking, and labor radicalism still raged. 
Their tumultuous awakening defined the Missionaries for life as a generation of 
moral pathfinders, men and women to whom any opinion was a religion once 
they decided it was right. William Allen White recalls that Bryan’s campaign 
“was a fanaticism like the Crusades. Indeed the delusion that was working on 
the people took the form of religious frenzy.” Unlike their Progressive next- 
elders, Missionaries were attracted by the specter of purifying confrontation. 
“People who love soft words and hate iniquity forget this,” Chapman wrote in 
1898, “that reform consists in taking a bone away from a dog.” A fellow student 
had earlier attributed Chapman’s popularity to sheer zeal: “He is glowing and 
beautiful like fire . . . destructive like fire, seeking heaven like fire.” 

Missionary anger remitted into self-discovery during Theodore Roosevelt’s 
second term. When the economy slumped after the Panic of 1907, they hardly 
noticed. Instead, reveling in the personal independence of their new automobile 
age, they shifted their attention from messianic upheaval to the serious task of 
reshaping self and community. Their lofty- worded movements spread the spec- 
trum from the holy (Billy Sunday’s fundamentalism, “White Angel” Booth’s 
Salvation Army) to the domestic (Elmer McCollum’s fruit faddism, Frank Lloyd 
Wright’s “Prairie Style” architecture); from the utopian (Bill Haywood’s Wob- 
blies, Emma Goldman’s anarchists) to the mean-spirited (William Simmons’ 
reborn Ku Klux Klan, Henry Goddard’s eugenics movement); from the uplifting 
(Jane Addams’ settlement houses, Walter Rauschenbusch’s “Social Gospel”) 
to the sober (Andrew Volstead’s crusade against liquor, Francis Harrison’s 
against narcotics). Not least, for rising adults who loudly hailed “the New 
Woman,” was the unprecedented strength of their feminist cadre — including 
Isadora Duncan (celebrating sexual emancipation by dance), Charlotte Perkins 
Gilman (assailing This Man-Made World ), Margaret Sanger (broadcasting birth- 
control advice in Woman Rebel), and countless others in what came to be annual 
suffrage marches up New York’s Fifth Avenue. Whatever their causes, the 
Missionary mental approach remained a generational constant: a fierce desire to 
make the world perfect according to standards that welled up from within. 

Entering midlife around World War I, this generation often found itself split 
into opposite camps, rural evangelicals versus urban Social Gospelers (or “mod- 
ernists”). Yet growing pessimism about America’s future in the hands of their 
nihilistic Lost juniors brought them together behind a common generational 
mission: the vindication of social good over social evil. Thus did fiftyish Mis- 
sionaries transform into enthusiastic circa-1917 “Crusaders for Democracy,” 



236 


GENERATIONS 


and later into the “Decency” enforcers of the 1920s. They pushed through 
Prohibition, women’s suffrage, immigration restriction, Smoot-Hawley, Red 
deportation, “vice squads,” and punitive criminal laws — all in an effort to 
rekindle higher principles of national community. With the Great Depression 
and global totalitarianism of the 1930s, this effort matured into a sense of 
historical imperative. And when the era of crisis culminated in war, a still younger 
generation (of G.I.s) looked to aging Missionaries for wise leadership, for a 
fresh definition of national purpose they could dutifully champion against all 
enemies. “That is the conflict that day and night now pervades our lives,” 
President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed after the attack on Pearl Harbor, “No 
compromise can end that conflict. There has never been — there never can be — 
successful compromise between good and evil. Only total victory can reward 
the champions of tolerance, and decency, and freedom, and faith.” In old age, 
this generation of moralists — the likes of Roosevelt, MacArthur, Henry Kaiser, 
and George Marshall — established America as a global beacon of revitalized 
civilization. 

Throughout their lives, Missionaries startled older and younger generations 
by their fixation on mind and spirit, by their odd detachment from the material 
realities of life. They championed the inner life, from Jane Addams’ “higher 
conscience” in immigrant neighborhoods, to W.E.B. DuBois’ “black con- 
sciousness” in race relations, to the “stream of consciousness” novels of Stephen 
Crane — even to the “primitive consciousness” of Jack London’s Call of the 
Wild and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes . By the time America was 
rallying behind this generation’s leadership at a moment of national emergency, 
incoming President Franklin Roosevelt remarked of “our common difficulties” 
that “they concern, thank God, only material things.” Several years later, Roo- 
sevelt repeated “the belief I have already affirmed many times that there is not 
a problem, social, political, or economic, that would not find full solution in 
the fire of a religious awakening. ...” In Confessions of a Reformer , Frederic 
Howe explained that “early assumptions as to virtue and vice, goodness and 
evil remained in my mind long after I had tried to discard them. This is, I think, 
the most characteristic influence of my generation. It explains the nature of our 
reforms, . . . our belief in men rather than institutions and our messages to other 
people. Missionaries and battleships, anti-saloon leagues and Ku Klux Klan . . . 
are all a part of that evangelistic psychology . . . that seeks a moralistic expla- 
nation of social problems and a religious solution to most of them.” George 
Santayana was surely thinking of his fifty ish peers when he observed in 1920: 
“Americans are eminently prophets. They apply morals to public affairs. . . . 
They are men of principles, and fond of stating them.” 

The word “missionary” symbolized this generation’s lifelong quest for global 
reform. The effort began with what Ivy League students proclaimed to be the 
“missionary crusade” of the 1880s, sealed by an 1886 assembly at Mount 
Hermon, Massachusetts, at which students proclaimed “the kingdom of God on 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


237 


earth” and adopted the motto many would apply into old age: “The Evangeli- 
zation of the World in This Generation.” In vast numbers, these young zealots 
built Christian encampments all over Asia. They loved calling themselves “mis- 
sionaries,” the Latin plural derivative of the Greek “apostle,” or “one sent.” 
When hundreds of them were massacred during the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 
1900 (some decapitated torsos found with their hands still locked in prayer), 
thirtyish peers back home took to heart their role as global martyrs, “ones sent” 
to bring new values to the “Brotherhood of Man” by force of their example. 
Thirty-three years later, Franklin Roosevelt became the leader whom “young 
men followed” — notes historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. — “as they had followed 
no American since Lincoln.” And forty-five years later, FDR became the only 
President whose death was universally likened to the martyrdom of Lincoln. 
“He was just like a daddy to me always,” confessed the young G.I. Lyndon 
Johnson. “He was the one person I ever knew, anywhere, who was never afraid. 
God, God — how he could take it for us all.” What they achieved themselves 
early in life hardly compared to what others saw in them late in life. Sherwood 
Eddy recalled of Robert Speer, his crusading classmate of the 1880s and author 
of Missionary Principles and Practice: “What he was, was more important than 
what he did.” 

This is the first generation to which many living Americans feel a personal 
connection. Today’s elders recall Missionaries as history saw them last, as the 
visionary leaders who guided America through the Great Depression and World 
War II. Today’s 50-year-old probably remembers at least one Missionary grand- 
parent; today’s 75-year-old, a Missionary parent or two. Chances are, those 
memories are of stem old Victorian patriarchs and matriarchs, devoted to what 
we would now describe as traditional religion. In one respect, Missionaries were 
literally the last “Victorians”: They were the last Americans to come of age 
before the grand queen died in 1901. Yet the full story of their lifecycle cannot 
possibly be told by invoking the Victorian stereotype, nor indeed by recalling 
the steel- willed leaders of the mid- 1940s — a cadre of elders now sometimes 
remembered as “the World War II Wise Men.” Instead, the full story must 
include very different images — of youthful indulgence, coming-of-age fury, 
rising-adult introspection, and midlife pomposity and intolerance. What finally 
emerged late in life, the austere and resolute persona, was largely self-created 
by a generation determined (in Edith Wharton’s words) “to build up, little by 
little, bit by bit, the precious thing we’d smashed to atoms without knowing it.” 

Missionary Facts 

• Today’s idyllic image of the traditional American Yuletide — Christmas trees, 
jingle bells, sleighrides, chromo cards, and a jolly, present-toting Santa 
(first sketched by Thomas Nast in 1863) — was created mainly by the midlife 
Gilded for the benefit of Missionary children. 



238 


GENERATIONS 


• The early Missionary childhood witnessed an unprecedented growth in Amer- 

ican primary schooling. During the 1870s alone, the number of high schools 
more than doubled, and the year 1880 marks the nineteenth century’s high- 
water mark for the share of all Americans under age 20 attending school. 
During the next couple of decades, secondary education expanded rapidly. 
From 1884 to 1901, the number of women attending coed colleges rose 
sevenfold. From 1884 to 1907, the number of college and postgraduate 
degrees tripled. 

• Attending college, Missionaries sparked the greatest wave of campus rebellions 

since the 1830s. The “settlement movement” (also known as the “New 
Franciscanism”) belongs almost entirely to this generation. Between 1886 
and 1911, 17,500 students and recent graduates, mostly from affluent fam- 
ilies, joined Jane Addams on her urban crusade — a far higher percentage 
of the national student body than the circa- 1965 Peace Corps. 

• Missionaries came of age during a boom era for youthful outdoor sports: golf, 

tennis, and roller-skating in the 1880s, and amusement parks and the “bi- 
cycle craze” of the 1890s. Young women actively participated in looser 
clothing and reinvented ‘ ‘bloomers” (called ‘ Nationals” in 1 895) for bicycle 
riding. 

• During the 1890s, Missionaries produced the largest-ever surge of famous 

authors in their twenties — including Jack London, Frank Norris, Stephen 
Crane, and Booth Tarkington. Joined a decade later by the like-aged Upton 
Sinclair, Ray Stannard Baker, William Allen White, and Lincoln Steffens, 
young Missionaries dominated the ranks of tum-of-the-century “muckrak- 
ers.” According to historian Louis Filler’s composite biography, the typical 
muckraker — “bom in the Eighteen Sixties” and “raised in the shadow of 
momentous events” — became “radical in his college days,” “bloomed” 
with the rise of Theodore Roosevelt, and “invariably” supported America’s 
entry into World War I. 

• After steadily rising from 1880 on, per capita alcohol and drug consumption 

peaked around 1905 — just as last-wave Missionaries were reaching their 
twenties. Moving into midlife, Missionaries launched their memorable drive 
to eradicate all forms of substance abuse (as well as crime and pornography), 
and by the mid- 1920s they succeeded in pushing alcohol consumption to 
its lowest level in American history. 

• Having been bom the first generation never to know slavery, Missionary blacks 

came of age just as southern Jim Crow laws were stripping them of their 
rights as citizens — an era historian Rayford Logan calls “the Nadir” of 
black history. At least 60 blacks were reported lynched each year between 
1885 and 1904 (peaking at 161 in 1892). This generation of American 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


239 


blacks — women especially — became legendary for its principled racial lead- 
ership. Journalist Ida Wells chaired the Anti-Lynching League; educator 
Mary McLeod Bethune organized the black women’s movement; and in 
1909, W.E.B. DuBois, founder of The Crisis, joined James Weldon Johnson 
in issuing “the call” for a National Association for the Advancement of 
Colored People. 

• “The decades that straddle the turn of the century,” writes historian Harvey 

Levenstein, “constituted a veritable Golden Age of food faddism.” As 
lifelong advocates of “New Nutrition,” Missionaries pioneered vegetarian 
diets, introduced salads and cole slaw, counted calories, and discovered 
vitamins. After Upton Sinclair published The Jungle in 1906, public disgust 
at the sight and smell of Gilded meatpacking triggered an immediate fall 
in beef prices — and a long-term decline in protein’s role in the American 
diet. During World War I, while Missionary food crusaders urged “meat- 
less” and “wheatless” Sundays, the verb “to Hooverize” (coined after the 
43-year-old director of Wilson’s Food Administration) became synonymous 
with “to do without.” 

• Missionary women married at a higher average age than women of any other 

American generation until the Boom. As late as 1915, two of every five 
1880s-era women’s college graduates remained single. Nine percent of all 
Missionary women had never married by age 60 — the largest share ever 
recorded for that age. “The 1890s were a boom time for being single,” 
write historians Ruth Freeman and Patricia Klaus of “the first generation 
of bachelor women” who took pride in calling themselves “spinsters.” 

• Through their lifecycle. Missionaries entirely redefined the role of women in 

American public life. Around the turn of the century, Missionary women 
surged into previously all-male professions (law, theology, medicine, den- 
tistry, journalism), became the first female “secretaries,” and began to 
monopolize primary school teaching. According to historian James Mc- 
Govern, “the great leap forward in women’s participation in economic life 
came between 1900 and 1910.” In politics, moreover, Missionary women 
stood at the head of their generation’s two successful constitutional amend- 
ments (women’s suffrage and Prohibition). Nineteen Missionary women 
won election to Congress — versus two women from all prior generations 
combined. 

• When they were combat- age, Missionary men faced a lower risk of dying in 

war than any other American generation — yet none can match the Mis- 
sionaries for crusading zeal abroad. In all three wars of their lifecycle — 
the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II — they led the 
call for intervention, often over resistance from their elders or juniors. 



240 


GENERATIONS 


• Elder Missionaries (especially women) achieved unprecedented gains in Amer- 

ican longevity. From the 1930s on, mortality rates fell by 20 to 30 percent 
in all age brackets between 65 and 85 as Missionaries aged through them. 
This became the first generation in which women outlived men. 

• Missionaries also retained elective national office until very late in life. They 

kept a majority share of Congress and governorships until fifty-five years 
after their last birthyear (1937) and a 25 percent share until sixty-three years 
afterward (1945) — both figures unmatched by any other generation before 
or since. From 1925 to 1945, the age of congressmen, governors, and cabinet 
members climbed to its highest level in American history. 

• Although Missionary political leaders founded Social Security in 1935, fewer 

than one in twenty of their generation ever received retirement-related ben- 
efits from the program. And those who did got an average of $23 per month 
(about $125 in 1990 dollars), which remained unadjusted for inflation 
throughout the 1940s. By today’s poverty standard, 60 percent of Missionary 
elders (age 67 to 89) were poor in 1949 — versus 34 percent of all Americans 
between age 15 and 64. 


The Missionary Lifecycle 

YOUTH: “Children are not generally indulged enough,” insisted Jacob Ab- 
bott in Gentle Measures in the Management of the Young , the leading parental 
manual of the 1870s. In Home Treatment for Children , Mattie Trippe urged 
parents to let kids “revel in an absolute sense of freedom, feeling only the 
restraints of affection.” Missionaries were the indulged children of the Gilded 
Age — an age of big constructions, rapid economic expansion, and an adult belief 
in science and experience over faith. Older generations felt themselves living in 
a rapidly modernizing era whose main shortcomings were ethical and could 
someday be remedied by the young. Likening the nurture tone of the 1870s and 
1880s to that of the Dr. Spock 1950s, historian Mary Cable described this “long 
children’s picnic” as “a controlled but pleasantly free atmosphere.” W.E.B. 
DuBois remembered his childhood as “a boy’s paradise,” Jane Addams how 
her girlfriends had been “sickened with advantages,” Henry Canby how families 
had “more cheerfulness” and “more give and take between parents and chil- 
dren” than the “previous generation” had enjoyed. The Missionaries also ben- 
efited from a huge expansion in education, led by rising-adult Progressive 
teacher-experts and funded by midlife Gilded taxpayers (and, later, by elder 
Gilded philanthropists). In northern cities, Missionaries included the first Amer- 
ican “kindergarten” students — in the South, the first generation of black young- 
sters to grow up mostly literate. 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


241 


While Gilded-era science elevated “Mama” in a child’s eye, it pushed 
“Papa” into a world of adult competition outside the home, a world many 
children would later condemn as spiritually hollow. Inspired by Little Lord 
Fauntleroy and best-selling piano songs like “Always Take Mother’s Advice,” 
magazine fiction put unprecedented stress on Mama’s central child-rearing role. 
The link between Missionaries and mothers would last a lifetime. Billy “Rose- 
bud” Hearst was a notorious “mama’s boy.” A1 Smith lived alone with his 
mother until he married at age 27. Frank Lloyd Wright benefited from a mother 
who purposely meditated on “fine architecture” while he was still unborn. When 
the teenage Douglas MacArthur entered West Point, his mother came right along 
with him and found lodgings outside the gates. Many eminent Missionaries would 
later credit Mama for their success — or, in the case of Sara Delano Roosevelt, 
author of My Boy Franklin, Mama would make the claim on her own. In this 
Darwinian age, the most popular children’s books ( Black Beauty, Heidi, and 
Horatio Alger’s Bound to Rise ) joined Gilded mamas in assuring children that 
the good-hearted always get rewarded. Churches deemphasized death and dam- 
nation, and Sundays became a day for family outings. “The parents left religion 
to the Church, and the Church left it to the service and the Bible,” recalled 
Canby. “There was a tacit understanding between generations that hellfire had 
been overdone.” Coming of age, however, many Missionaries chose to renege 
on their side of this “tacit understanding.” 

COMING OF AGE: In The Evolution of a College Student, educator Wil- 
liam Hyde described the typical 1890s-era freshman as homesick, the sophomore 
as arrogant, the junior as socialist, and the senior as religious — with an “ascetic, 
egotistical” fiancee intent on becoming a settlement house worker. During the 
decade and a half between 1886 and 1903, in college or out, these youths raised 
on Santa Claus and Horatio Alger came of age as stem reformers, bellowing 
prophets, and spiritual explorers. Students accused anxious Progressive teachers 
of sharing what Ray Stannard Baker called the “enlightened selfishness” of the 
Gilded era. “As for questions,” remembered Lincoln Steffens, “the professors 
asked them, not the students; and the students, not the teachers, answered them.” 
Young writers flayed the Gilded-built world for “soulless money-getting,” “im- 
mense banking, roaring industries,” and “hugeness and disorder.” In the early 
1890s, George Herron drew huge crowds to hear his “Message of Jesus to Men 
of Wealth.” While “there may have to be some dying done before our social 
wrongs are thoroughly righted,” Herron exhorted his listeners: “A simple gen- 
eration of Christians, yea, a single generation of preachers and teachers . . . could 
regenerate the world.” Reflecting back on his twenties, Frederic Howe wrote: 
“That was the thing that interested me — finding myself; and I wanted to be 
surrounded by people who were interested in finding themselves, who wanted 
to understand life and its meanings.” 



242 


GENERATIONS 


Not content with mere words, many young Missionaries turned to symbolic 
acts of violence. They founded anarchist communes (including the radical Mas- 
sachusetts enclave of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman), where they 
contemplated their rage against "‘bosses” — and then vented it at the Hay market 
Riot, Homestead Massacre, and Pullman Strike. They often succeeded in mar- 
tyring themselves for the workers’ revolution. One convicted anarchist, Louis 
Lingg, blew himself up with a dynamite cap in his mouth rather than go to the 
gallows. “Perhaps there is no happiness in life so perfect as the martyr’s,” 
O. Henry later observed in one of his short stories. Fledgling writers like Stephen 
Crane strained to mix holiness with gore (“The clang of swords is Thy wisdom/ 
The wounded make gestures like Thy Son’s”), while the headlines of the young 
“New Journalism” publisher young William Randolph Hearst shrieked of 
wrecks, fires, and foreign atrocities. “If bad institutions and bad men can be 
got rid of only by killing them, then the killing must be done.” So read an 
unsigned Hearst editorial not long before 28-year-old anarchist Leon Czolgosz 
shot and killed President McKinley. Four years later, the public began to hear 
the singing voice of young Wobblies: “Onward Christian soldiers, rip and tear 
and smite/ Let the gentle Jesus bless your dynamite.” “We shall bear down the 
opposition,” screamed Upton Sinclair at the close of The Jungle. “Chicago will 
be ours! Chicago will be ours! CHICAGO WILL BE OURS!” 

RISING ADULTHOOD: The bombs and riots triggered by twentyish hot- 
heads during the 1890s later embarrassed this generation as its members moved 
into their thirties and forties. During the Presidencies of Roosevelt and Taft, 
late-starting Missionaries shrugged off a souring economy and tried to catch up 
with their personal lives and careers. Richard Hovey, who had earlier accused 
the Gilded of being “like an oyster, all stomach,” now admitted that he had 
“no real objection to a bathtub and clean linen.” But if their fire turned inward 
and fragmented into separate channels, it did not extinguish. By degrees, these 
young men and women entirely reshaped American values and culture. While 
Christian socialists preached the Social Gospel to urban immigrants, Billy Sunday 
preached “fundamentalism” to an emerging rural Bible Belt. While poet-guitarist 
Carl Sandburg, “Ragtime” Scott Joplin, and “Father of the Blues” W. C. 
Handy enlivened Greenwich Village, new martyrs like Joe Hill (“the man who 
never died”) kept the radical Wobbly fringe alive. Cheering Roosevelt’s “Great 
White Fleet,” many young adults asserted a holy creed of white world suprem- 
acy — spearheaded by D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and by young Senator 
Albert Beveridge’s “Almighty Plan” to rid the world of “savage and senile 
peoples.” Meanwhile, W.E.B. DuBois began rallying his black peers to defy 
Booker T. Washington’s “Tuskegee Machine” and quit apologizing to whites. 
Insisting that “younger men believed that the Negro problem could not remain 
a matter of philanthropy,” DuBois launched the Niagara Movement, the first 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


243 


national black platform that refused to accept second-class social and political 
status. 

As their spiritual energy split into separate streams, two Missionary-propelled 
inventions — the Wright brothers’ airplane and the automobile of Henry Ford, 
Alfred Sloan, and Walter Chrysler — joined technology to the individuating of 
inner aspirations. Migrating and commuting far more than their Progressive elders 
at like age, Missionary rising adults embraced new social inventions like the 
“vacation,” “motel,” “suburb,” and “country club.” A number of rural-bom 
authors fled eastward (theirs having been the first large generation of western 
frontier babies), where they criticized what Sherwood Anderson labeled “lives 
of quiet desperation” in rural small towns. “I loathed you, Spoon River,” wrote 
Edgar Lee Masters, “I tried to rise above you.” Avoiding marriage, many 
thirty ish women ignored popular warnings that “the home is in peril” and 
wondered along with novelist Ellen Glasgow why they must “sit at home and 
grow shapeless and have babies galore.” Those who did start families rejected 
the stodgy Victorianism of their parents and sought simpler lives (the “servantless 
kitchen”) and smaller houses (what historian Gwendolyn Wright calls the new 
“minimalist house”). Self-assured, righteous, and generally intolerant as they 
approached midlife positions of power, the Missionaries reflected a sublimated 
sexuality among a generation whose men and women, Canby later admitted, 
“tacitly agreed to look upon one another as sexless.” While the tall, mannish 
“Gibson Girl” became the symbol of young women invading the male profes- 
sional world, muckraking and ministerial young men laid claim to a moral 
pedestal that the Gilded had left to the lady. 

MIDLIFE: “There is but one side in a moral question. Which do you take?” 
prodded William Jennings Bryan, helping to transform what had been the Pro- 
gressive “temperance” movement into Missionary-style “Prohibition.” At last 
taking over the very institutions they had attacked in their youth, Missionaries 
now wanted to run them with zeal. In 1917, after pushing yet another Progressive 
President into war, they used their growing political clout to harness the brief 
emergency for “moral” purposes: not just the constitutional agendas of rural 
drys and feminists (both of which quickly triumphed), but more sweeping means 
of controlling the younger Lost whose hedonism they despised and whose wild- 
ness they feared might taint a new generation of G.I. children. General “Black 
Jack” Pershing took brutal action against doughboy war deserters. Judge Ken- 
esaw Mountain Landis sentenced hundreds of younger (and no longer inspira- 
tional) Wobblies to hard time, and then turned his cudgel to cleaning up baseball. 
Attorney General Mitchell Palmer (the “Fighting Quaker,” famous for address- 
ing enemies as “thee”) rounded up 4,000 supposed Bolsheviks on a single night 
and deported a shipful. James Truslow Adams admitted that his peers had found 
a “scapegoat” and that “the name on its collar is ‘The Younger Generation.’ ” 



244 


GENERATIONS 


While President Wilson complained that the war unleashed a “spirit of rising 
brutality” that made Americans “forget there ever was such a thing as toler- 
ance,” many Missionary reformers welcomed how the war effort brought to 
America “union and communion” (Mary Follett), a “wider and wiser control 
of the common interests” (Robert Park), and “true national collectivism” (Rob- 
ert Woods). When Senator Borah and his fellow “irreconcilables” denied Wilson 
his postwar League of Nations, Americans could sense that the Progressives 
were at last yielding to a more passionate and less genteel generation of leaders. 

As the 1920s wore on, thanks to a well-timed bull market, the midlife urban 
elite rose at the expense of their rural and evangelical peers. But still the caustic 
moral tone deepened. Henry Ford offered a “just share” to workers who passed 
his exam “on the clean and wholesome life.” Calvin Coolidge insisted “true 
business” would bring “moral and spiritual advancement” — making this “Pu- 
ritan in Babylon” (according to the like-aged William Allen White) a man “wise 
according to his day and generation.” Congress virtually halted immigration; 
“Czar of the Movies” Will Harrison Hays pushed a “Code of Decency” against 
sex on camera; Ku Klux Klan leaders tried to “Americanize” the heartland; and 
the nation’s first “vice squads” began to hunt down bootleggers. While even 
DuBois expressed alarm at the growth in youth crime, a new generation of 
Missionary judges meted out more executions and longer prison terms, and state 
health officials began authorizing “eugenical” sterilizations. By now, Mission- 
aries began hearing the younger Lost revile them as “Babbitts” or as “Tired 
Radicals.” An occasional Missionary joined in. Self-proclaimed “debunker” 
H. L. Mencken gleefully roasted his “homo booboisie” peers. But as the 1920s 
drew to a close, most of this high-toned generation agreed with Paul Elmer More 
and Irving Babbitt that America needed a “New Humanism,” an austere new 
ethic of social order and self-discipline. With the rise of Herbert Hoover, re- 
nowned as a brilliant humanitarian of global vision, Missionaries hoped that 
their best man was in position to propel the “Gospel of Business” overseas — 
to eliminate poverty, promote Christianity, and raise moral standards worldwide. 

ELDERHOOD: “This generation has a rendezvous with destiny,” an- 
nounced Franklin Roosevelt in the depths of the Great Depression when his own 
“generation” ranged in age from its mid-fifties to its late seventies. As crisis 
approached, the aging and authoritarian Missionaries moved comfortably into 
place as stewards of social and economic regimentation. With the demise of 
Prohibition and the rise of the “New Deal coalition,” the urban-rural schism 
expired — partly through cooperation in the face of peril, and partly through the 
leadership of urban modernists like A1 Smith. As the midlife Lost mellowed, 
they joined Missionary leaders in staking America’s future on a rising generation 
of good-scout G.I.s. “The interest of Roosevelt was with the younger man,” 
recalled his adviser Barbara Armstrong. Most elder Missionaries — including 
pension activists like Francis Townsend and John McGroarty (dubbed the “Poet 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


245 


Laureate of California”) — ultimately accepted the intergenerational quid pro 
quo of Roosevelt’s Social Security legislation. The young were promised new 
jobs, a “family wage,” and (in the words of Senator Wagner) “new places 
available for the strong and eager.” The old got a meager and much-delayed 
pension upon “retiring,” but, far more important to them, they retained the 
moral authority to set national priorities in an era of economic and wartime 
emergency. 

It would have been a cruel “New Deal” for any other generation. Econom- 
ically, the Missionaries had sacrificed their own interests by directing most 
available public resources toward youth. But these elders had few complaints. 
They took too much pride in directing the sacrifices of others. During a decade 
and a half of crisis, they consolidated their social authority — over ineffective 
opposition from the Lost and often with the encouragement of G.I.s. In religion, 
old Missionaries continued to dominate American churches. In politics, they 
remained the undisputed leaders of now-graying Presidential cabinets, Congres- 
sional committees, and state assemblies. In social legislation, they became “the 
social-work progressive crowd” and academic “Elders” — those whom historian 
Otis Graham, Jr., describes as “a small ascetic fraternity, the visible saints of 
twentieth-century reform” (and whom Mencken less respectfully labeled “the 
New Deal Isaiahs”). In war, they became guiding patriarchs (Secretaries Henry 
Stimson and Cordell Hull; Admirals “Bull” Halsey and Ernest King; Generals 
MacArthur and Marshall; industrialists Henry Kaiser and Bernard Baruch; phy- 
sicist Albert Einstein). Today’s older Americans remember the serene self- 
assurance and unquestioned authority commanded by these elders — and not just 
in America. During the war, the entire Free World knew Roosevelt as simply 
“the President” or “Dr. Win-the-War”; after the war, it knew George Marshall 
as “Europe’s Savior.” When MacArthur left the Philippines proclaiming “I 
shall return,” his righteous self-esteem energized people of all ages; when he 
came home from Korea, awestruck younger congressmen likened him to “God 
Himself.” After World War II, though the Lost finally assumed command, 
eightyish visionaries continued to symbolize what all Americans called their 
“Great Crusade.” They retreated into old age like the global missionary and 
1946 Nobel Peace Prize laureate John Mott, who (in the words of a younger 
admirer) had “something of the mountains and sea” in him and “went away 
with that calm, unhasty step, with that manner that seemed never ruffled, never 
excited, . . . very simple and a bit sublime.” 

* * * 

Where the angry spiritualism of Transcendental youth culminated in the apoc- 
alypse of the Civil War, the Missionaries demonstrated how a youthful generation 
of muckrakers, evangelicals, and bomb-throwers could mature into revered and 
principled elders — wise old men and women capable of leading the young 
through grave peril to a better world beyond. From the 1880s through the 1940s, 
the Missionary hand can be seen pushing American ideals and history forward. 



246 


GENERATIONS 


Just as we today honor the reforms of the Progressive Era as a testament to fair 
process, we remember Prohibition, the New Deal, World War II, and the Mar- 
shall Plan as a testament to the imperative that ‘ ‘good” must triumph over ‘ ‘bad. ’ ’ 
Some of what they did in pursuit of morality, of course, they overdid. And when 
excesses were committed, it was usually the younger, more pragmatic Lost who 
had to bear the punishment and clean up the mess left behind: from the Palmer 
Raids to Prohibition, from Hoovervilles to Yalta. By the late 1940s, as younger 
Americans began yearning for some national purpose less lofty than rectitude, 
the Missionary star faded at last. Perhaps it was time. “Do not be deceived — 
we are today in the midst of a cold war,” announced 77-year-old Bernard Baruch 
only two years after VJ-day. These were ominous words from a man and a 
generation that had always been able to find extra moral stature in every new 
war and every new crusade. 

Without question, Americans today have the Missionaries to thank for lifting 
America to its present-day status as a great global power. America still lives by 
the visions they glimpsed. In foreign policy, the very term “foreign aid” was 
invented by elder Missionaries (Herbert Hoover and Herbert Lehman), perhaps 
recalling those classmates on Mount Hermon who first set their sights on “The 
Evangelization of the World in This Generation.” At home, the term “Great 
Society’ ’ was similarly popularized by elder Missionaries (James Truslow Adams 
and Fiorello La Guardia), perhaps recalling that youthful image of Bryan — “the 
bard and prophet of them all,” wrote Vachel Lindsay — who claimed that “a 
nation can be bom in a day if the ideals of the people can be changed.” In 1948 
at age 83, art critic Bernard Berenson defined “culture” as “the effort to build 
a House of Life . . . that humanistic society which under the name of Paradise, 
Elysium, Heaven, City of God, Millennium, has been the craving of all good 
men these last four thousand years or more.” Franklin Roosevelt had something 
similar in mind when he described his “Four Freedoms” just nine months before 
leading America to war. “That is no vision of a distant millennium,” he ex- 
plained. “It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time 
and generation.” 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


247 


LOST GENERATION 

Bom: 1883-1900 
Type: Reactive 

Age Location: 

Missionary Awakening in youth 
Great Depression- World War II Crisis in midlife 

“There died a myriad . . . / For an old bitch gone in the teeth, / For a botched 
civilization.” That is how the thirty ish Ezra Pound described what Missionaries 
liked to call America’s “Crusade for Democracy.” World War I was cruel 
enough to soldiers in the trenches, but the homecoming was humiliating. In 1919 
and 1920, their next-elders meted out the Volstead Act to purge them of liquor, 
“Red Scare” Palmer Raids to purge them of radicals, and John Sumner’s Society 
for the Suppression of Vice to purge them of pornography. “The season ’tis, 
my lovely lambs,/ of Sumner Volstead Christ and Co.,” lampooned 26-year- 
old e.e. cummings. “Down with the middle-aged!” joined in John Dos Passos, 
age 24. These literati would soon know themselves as the LOST GENERATION, 
scrambling survivors in a world of pomposity and danger. As the 1920s dawned, 
some were already getting into trouble — like John Reed, dying an unrepentant 
“Red” in Moscow, or Harry Truman, whose clothing store was going bust. But 
amid this sea of alienation, the post- Armistice years dealt lucky draws to a few 
who were “Puttin’ on the Ritz”: Babe Ruth (blasting home runs for the Yankees); 
“Scarface” A1 Capone (setting up “business” in Chicago); Irving Berlin (scav- 
enging in Tin Pan Alley); and young writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair 
Lewis, and Eugene O’Neill (striking it rich with blockbuster hits). Embittered 
30-year-olds fought ideology with pleasure, Babbittry with binges, moral cru- 
sades with bathtub gin and opulent sex. “America was going on the greatest, 
gaudiest spree in history,” bubbled Fitzgerald in This Side of Paradise , setting 
the tone for the “Roaring Twenties.” 

Fitzgerald described his generation as at once “prewar and postwar.” With 
a rowdy childhood and a tired old age as bookends, the Lost lifecycle was divided 
roughly in thirds by two world wars. (“In the meantime, in between time, Ain't 
We Got Fun ?”) The story began with streetwise kids who grew up fast — too 
late to join in the spiritual high of their next-elders, but fast enough to stay one 
step ahead of Missionary efforts to clean them up later on. They were, wrote 
Fitzgerald, “a new generation dedicated more than the last to the fear of poverty 
and the worship of success; grown up to find all gods dead, all wars fought, all 



LOST GENERATION (Born 1883 to 1900) 


TYPE: Reactive 

Total number: 45,000,000 
Now alive in U.S.: 1,100,000 
Percent immigrant: 21% 


FAMILY TREE 

Typical grandparents: Gilded 
Parents: Progressive and Missionary 
Children: G.I. and Silent 
Typical grandchildren: Boom 


SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 


1885 Sinclair Lewis (1951) 

1885 George Patton (1945) 

1888 Irving Berlin (1989)* 

1889 Walter Lippmann (1974) 
1891 Earl Warren (1974) 

1891 Nicola Sacco (1927)* 

1892 Reinhold Niebuhr (1971) 

1892 Mae West (1980) 

1893 Dorothy Parker (1967) 

1894 Norman Rockwell (1978) 

1895 J. Edgar Hoover (1972) 

1895 Babe Ruth (1948) 

1896 George Bums 

1896 F. Scott Fitzgerald (1940) 

1898 Paul Robeson (1976) 

1899 Humphrey Bogart (1957) 
1899 A1 Capone (1947)* 

1899 Ernest Hemingway (1961) 

1900 Louis Armstrong (1971) 
1900 Adlai Stevenson (1965) 


Plurality in House: 1937-1953 
Plurality in Senate: 1943-1959 
Majority of Supreme Court: 1941-1967 

U.S. PRESIDENTS: 1945-1961 

1884 Harry S. Truman (1972) 

1890 Dwight D. Eisenhower (1969) 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1883 Benito Mussolini (1945) 

1889 Adolf Hitler (1945) 

1889 Charles Chaplin (1977) 

1890 Charles de Gaulle (1970) 

1893 Mao Zedong (1976) 


* = immigrant 


Age 

Date 

0-9 

1892 

5-22 

1905 

12-29 

1912 

18-35 

1918 

29-46 

1929 

32-49 

1932 

35-52 

1935 

41-58 

1941 

45-62 

1945 

50-67 

1950 

60-77 

1960 

64-81 

1964 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

Ellis Island quarantine begins for new flood of poor immigrants 
First “nickelodeons” and “jelly beans”; word “adolescent” coined 
Child labor peaks; sinking of Titanic 

Doughboys come home to crackdown on drinking, drugs, crime 

Valentine’s Day gangland massacre; Black Thursday stock crash 

Bonus Army riot; soup lines and Hoovervilles multiply 

“Okies” flee dust bowl; Huey Long murdered; anti-FDR Liberty League 

Vandenberg, Nye abandon isolationism; Congress follows FDR to war 

Truman becomes President, orders atomic bombs dropped 

Kefauver Committee grills Lucky Luciano and other mobsters 

Ike opposes moon shot, warns against “military-industrial complex” 

Dirksen ends opposition to civil rights laws 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald); The Waste 
Land (T. S. Eliot); Babbitt (Sinclair Lewis); The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner); 
Monkey Business (film, Marx Brothers); Creed of an Advertising Man (Bruce Barton); An 
American in Paris (George Gershwin); Ain t Misbehavin’ (Duke Ellington); The Maltese 
Falcon (Dashiell Hammett); The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler); The Old Man and the Sea 
(Ernest Hemingway); The View from Eighty (Malcolm Cowley) 




THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


249 


faiths in man shaken.” So they lashed back at “the lies of old men” and the 
finger- wagging of grim dowagers. They led America through a dazzling decade, 
waiting for Hemingway’s bell to toll for them . When it did — with the stock 
crash and depression — they fell back exhausted at first, and then stepped forward 
as clear-eyed managers for their elders and as selfless protectors of their juniors. 
The Great Depression dealt them its crudest blow, robbing them of what should 
have been their peak income years and ushering in public action that ran against 
their grain. But lacking confidence in their own moral judgments, the Lost joined 
the national effort, lending what they liked to call “brains” — and what was, in 
effect, a keen realism about human nature. After providing outstanding gener- 
alship in World War II, gaining top command by the war’s end, the Lost mel- 
lowed into a cautious old age. Their elder survivors presided as social anchors 
over an era of strengthening families, warm nurture of the young, and sharply 
improving economic fortunes for the generations behind them. 

“Mama, I have been a bad boy. All my life I have been a bad boy,” murmured 
author Thomas Wolfe just before his death, a burned-out wreck at age 38 after 
a lifetime of wildness. “I was a bad kid,” echoed Babe Ruth, the carousing 
and hard-drinking Bambino. “I had a rotten start.” Such confessions were, in 
effect, the credo of a demeaned generation. When they were children, the media 
were obsessed with the problem of “bad boys.” Popular magazines featured 
stories like “Bad Boy of the Streets” and “Making Good Citizens out of Bad 
Boys.” From the decade before to the decade after 1900, while city-dwellers 
fretted over a rising tide of street crime, the number of published articles on 
“juvenile delinquency” rose tenfold. By World War I, Missionaries shifted 
public attention to the vices of young adults — their lust, drunkenness, violence, 
and “Black Sox” corruptibility. The taint followed them through what Frederick 
Lewis Allen would later call “the Decade of Bad Manners,” an era of gangsters, 
flappers, expatriates, and real-estate swindlers. By the late 1920s, elders looked 
upon the Lost as a social time bomb threatening to blow America to pieces. In 
1932, Missionary General Mac Arthur ran his cavalry over their unemployed 
veterans’ march on Washington to public applause — as if their joblessness (and 
the crash) had somehow been their fault. When a new Missionary President 
promised a few months later to purge “a generation of self-seekers” from “the 
temple of our civilization,” Americans of all ages knew who those “money 
changers” were. 

“My candle bums at both ends;/ It will not last the night,” Edna St. Vincent 
Millay had earlier predicted. She was right. By Pearl Harbor, virtually every 
one of their zany cultural heroes of the 1920s and 1930s had hit “The Crack- 
up,” as Fitzgerald named one of his last essays. The glittery Lost veneer evap- 
orated, but the “bad boy” survivalism lingered on — with “Blood and Guts” 
Patton and “Give ’Em Hell” Truman. Yet so too did the stigma of selfishness 
and unreason. Scarred by their youthful encounters with next-elder moralists, 
many midlife Lost became anti-New Dealers and isolationists. (“The war fever 



250 


GENERATIONS 


is on. New uniforms for soldiers are designed,” warned radio star Father Charles 
Coughlin. “Once more, we must begin hating the ‘Hun’ and bleeding for Great 
Britain and France.”) Roosevelt, in turn, called them “Copperheads” and in 
1944 got his most rousing campaign response by asking entire crowds to join a 
chant against three Lost isolationists: “MARTIN, BARTON — AND FISH!” 
Condemning defeatist “Tories” like Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, Archibald 
MacLeish called his peers The Irresponsibles, while soon after D-Day the elder 
Henry Stimson pointedly reminded America that “cynicism is the only mortal 
sin.” Daunted once again, the Lost entered postwar elderhood without fanfare, 
making way gracefully for an aggressive new batch of scoutlike G.I.s. Still 
accepting blame in old age, the Lost preserved their pride by refusing to ask for 
favors. They repeatedly pulled the lever for Republicans who promised not to 
help them in the 1950s and 1960s, feeling inferior to richer and smarter juniors 
who lacked their fatalism about life. 

Gertrude Stein, a sympathetic Missionary, told Hemingway that his was a 
“lost” generation. He adopted her name at the beginning of The Sun Also Rises , 
a 1926 novel that popularized the European wanderings of Americans his age 
and persuaded readers that “the Great War” had wasted those whom Fitzgerald 
called All the Sad Young Men. True, the horrors of mustard gas and trenchfoot 
catalyzed their generational identity. But years before Eddie Rickenbacker “barn- 
stormed” the Siegfried Line, Missionary elders were already finding plenty they 
didn’t like in these smooth, undereducated, daredevil kids. In 1911, Cornelia 
Comer spoke for many of her prim forty ish peers when she wrote an Atlantic 
Monthly “Letter to the Rising Generation” accusing them of “mental rickets 
and curvature of the soul,” of a “ culte du moi and of growing up “painfully 
commercialized even in their school days.” While admitting that “you are 
innocent victims of a good many haphazard educational experiments” that “have 
run amuck for the last twenty-five years,” Comer asked: “What excuse have 
you, anyhow, for turning out flimsy, shallow, amusement-seeking crea- 
tures . . . ?” And already the young Lost were taking the message to heart — 
while groping for a voice of their own. Responding to Comer, 25-year-old 
Randolph Bourne explained simply that his generation was the logical “reaction” 
to universal parental neglect. “The modem child from the age of ten is almost 
his own ‘boss,’ ” he observed, and while “it is true that we do not fuss and 
fume about our souls ... we have retained from childhood the propensity to see 
through things, and to tell the truth with startling frankness.” 

To the Lost, the greatest human need was a clear head. Existence before 
essence. Coming of age as America’s first existential generation, they often 
returned to those stark nihilisms which seemed to make sense out of the chaotic 
world of their childhood: surrealism, Dadaism, expressionism, futurism, Freud- 
ian relativism — all overshadowed by pessimistic theories of social entropy and 
decline. They couldn’t fathom their next-elder Missionaries, so busy trying to 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


251 


find meaning in life. They thought they knew better — that behind those loudly 
trumpeted principles, there was no meaning. “What is moral is what you feel 
good after,” declared Hemingway, “and what is immoral is what you feel bad 
after.” Few of the Lost made effective reformers or preachers. Instead, they 
became the most stunningly original generation of artists and writers in American 
history. They never stopped using what they called their “revolution of the 
word” to pour ice- water realism on their generational neighbors and to express 
their incorrigible aversion to grandiosity. To “Kingdom of God” Missionaries, 
the young Hemingway mockingly announced in 1933, “Our nada who art in 
nada, nada be thy name.” To “Great Society” G.I.s, the eightyish Henry Miller 
quipped in 1974: “It’s silly to go on pretending that under the skin we are all 
brothers. The truth is more likely that under the skin we are all cannibals, 
assassins, traitors, liars, hypocrites, poltroons.” 

From Ernest Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mae West to Jimmy Cagney, 
Paul Tillich to Reinhold Niebuhr, the Lost never expected that anyone would 
look to them for greatness or goodness. All they asked was the chance to remind 
their elders and juniors how life really worked, and the opportunity to do what 
needed doing — quickly, effectively — when nobody else would stoop to the task. 
Meanwhile, they were content to bear the blame so long as public-spirited 
crusaders kept their distance. They would make their own amends for their own 
shortcomings. Most of today’s 60-year-olds recall as children the presence of at 
least one Lost parent, probably the one who embraced them fondly if too fre- 
quently during the dark years of the Great Depression. Most of today’s 40-year- 
olds recall as children at least one reclusive Lost grandparent, or maybe just that 
foreign-bom “granny” down the street who scowled (with a twinkle in her eye) 
whenever a baseball rolled across her yard. You couldn’t pull the wool over 
their eyes. Nor could you make them forget a lifetime brimming with adventure: 
Ellis Island and sweatshops, sleek Pierce- Arrows and the Battle of the Mame, 
speakeasies and hangovers, a giddy bull market and a global crash, soup lines 
and dust-bowl caravans. They hid their early years from those nice-looking, 
TV-age youngsters they got to know in their old age — most assuredly because 
they didn’t want any kid to try reliving them. 


Lost Facts 

• Lost children entered the cash labor market at a higher rate than any generation 
of American children before or since. In 1910, nearly one child in five 
between age 10 and 14 (three in five between 15 and 19) was gainfully 
employed. Many worked in “sweatshops” (a word first coined in 1892). 
In the cities, one Lost child in six worked at some point as a “newsie” 
hawking the headlines — including Irving Berlin, Jack Dempsey, A1 Jolson, 



252 


GENERATIONS 


William O. Douglas, Groucho Marx, and Earl Warren. Later on, as rising 
adults, this generation of grown-up entrepreneurs resisted collective action. 
Despite a tight labor market, union memberships declined from nearly 5 
million in 1921 to under 3.5 million in 1929. 

• No other generation of children ever purchased such a large share of its total 

consumption with self-earned income. Lost pocket cash sustained America’s 
first child-only retailers (candy stores and nickelodeons) and nationally 
marketed sweets, including jelly beans, Tootsie Rolls, Hershey Bars, and 
bubble gum. From 1889 to 1922, the Lost sweet tooth propelled a doubling 
in per capita sugar consumption to about one hundred pounds annually 
(about where it remains today). In the 1920s, “sugar” became a term of 
endearment. 

• From first cohort to last, Lost youths showed little improvement in rates of 

illiteracy, absenteeism, dropout, or college entry. From 1880 to 1900, the 
share of all white children in primary schools dropped from 62 to 54 percent; 
for black children, from 34 to 31 percent. When Lost young men took the 
first “I.Q.” tests during World War I, the results showed that half the 
draftees had a “mental age” of under 12. During the 1920s, the so-called 
“threat of the feeble-minded” turned many midlife voters against immi- 
gration and prompted the Missionary psychologist Henry Goddard to invent 
technical terms (“moron,” “idiot,” and “imbecile”) to identify every 
gradation of stupidity. After 1950, when the Lost began to reach their mid- 
sixties, the learning gap between the elderly and nonelderly rapidly widened. 
In 1970, the educational disparity between all adults over 25 (who averaged 
12.2 years of schooling) and adults over 65 (who averaged 8.7 years) was 
the largest ever measured in this century. 

• The Lost were America’s first generation to grow up amid widespread adult- 

approved narcotics use. In 1900, while opium and chloral hydrate con- 
sumption was still rising, many other newly synthesized and unregulated 
drugs were entering the marketplace, including paraldehyde, sulphonal, 
veronal, and heroin. Cocaine or coca — a wondrous midlife discovery to 
Sigmund Freud, “Sherlock Holmes,” and many like-aged Progressives in 
America — was routinely sold in cough syrup, lozenges, and (until 1904) 
Coca-Cola. Yet when the Missionaries rose to power on the eve of World 
War I, the Lost took most of the blame for drug-related violence and crime. 

• From 1900 to 1920, while the Lost came of age, America’s homicide rate rose 

by 700 percent. Just before it peaked in the early 1930s, Lost street hoodlums 
had matured into America’s biggest-ever crime kingpins: A1 Capone, Frank 
Costello, Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz, and Legs Diamond. The Lost 
coined the word “underworld,” as well as “gangster,” “mobster,” “rack- 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


253 


eteer,” “moll,” and “getaway car.” Equally inventive with the lexicon 
of music and sex, they coined “get hep,” “jive,” “cat,” “cathouse,” 
“floozy,” “party girl,” “trick,” “fast” or “loose” woman, “sugar 
daddy,” “boy-crazy,” and “hot pants.” 

• The great influenza of 1918, the deadliest epidemic in American history (and 

fatal mostly to young adults), killed about 250,000 Lost — five times the 
number who died in combat during World War I. Decades later, the Lost’s 
unusually high rate of Parkinson’s disease in old age has often been attributed 
to this flu (or, some think, to their early contact with toxic industrial chem- 
icals). From the early 1950s through the 1960s, as Lost replaced Mission- 
aries as elders, old-age mortality rates stopped falling. Last- wave Lost males 
showed no gain over last-wave Missionary males in life expectancy at 
age 65. 

• At age 20 (in 1910), the Lost were 50 percent more suicide-prone than last- 

wave Missionaries had been at age 20 (in 1900). From childhood on, 
moreover, the Lost have thus far been more suicide-prone than the next 
three generations — G.I.s, Silent, and Boom — at every phase of life. In 
longitudinal surveys taken in the 1960s and 1970s, the Lost scored higher 
in “suspicion” and lower in “self-sentiment” than later-bom G.I.s at the 
same age. 

• The Lost accounted for the first black “Great Migration” out of the rural South 

and into the urban North. After growing up during the rise of Jim Crow 
and coming of age during the Wilson-era job boom, about 1 .5 million black 
Americans emigrated out of the South from 1910 to 1930 — nearly three 
times the prior number of black emigrants since the Civil War. 

• With nine million members bom abroad, the Lost is (in absolute numbers) 

America’s largest immigrant generation. An unmatched proportion came 
from Eastern and Southern Europe, many of them Jewish. Of all Americans 
today over age 85, one in six is a naturalized citizen (one in three in New 
York and New England) — a far higher share than of any other living gen- 
eration. 

• The Lost attained a majority share of Congressional seats and governorships 

later in their lifecycle (fifty-eight years after their first birthyear) than any 
other American generation. On a per-cohort basis, no other generation has 
been as weakly represented in national leadership posts over its lifetime. 

• Throughout their adult lives, the Lost have been the most Republican-leaning 

of generations. As elected congressmen, they were more likely than elder 
Missionaries to oppose the New Deal in the late 1930s. As voters, they 
chose Willkie in 1940, split roughly 50-50 for Goldwater in 1964, and gave 



254 


GENERATIONS 


Reagan his biggest generational proportions in 1980 and 1984. As Presi- 
dential contenders, they were mostly Republican: Alfred Landon, Wendell 
Willkie, Dwight Eisenhower, and “Mr. Republican” Robert Taft. Two 
others were third-party socialists: Norman Thomas and Henry Wallace. 
Their one incumbent Democrat, Harry Truman, won (barely) once; and 
their one other Democratic contender, Adlai Stevenson, lost (badly) twice. 

• Hit by the Great Depression during their midlife earning years, the Lost oc- 
cupied the one age bracket never targeted by a New Deal relief program. 
After the war, as G.I.s built and inhabited sparkling suburbs, the Lost mostly 
stayed put. Nearly half never lived in a house or apartment with two or 
more bedrooms and bathroom. In 1985, compared to a typical G.I. retiree 
in his late sixties, a surviving Lost elder (who was at least twenty years 
older) had one-third less total income, received one-fifth less in Social 
Security, was far less likely to have a private pension or own his own home, 
and was roughly twice as likely to live in poverty. 


The Lost Lifecycle 

YOUTH: In 1897, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote the New York Sun 
and asked her famous question: “Is there a Santa Claus?” Many in her class, 
she said, were anti-Santa skeptics — and, chances are, they were unpersuaded 
by the Sun's reassuring answer. The children of the 1890s were America’s most 
tough-minded ever, growing up fast amid gangs, drugs, saloons, big-city im- 
migration, and an emotional climate raging with evangelical fervor and social 
reform. Few tum-of-the-century parents knew how to protect their nests. Often 
they were permissive to the point of near-neglect, following the “Don’t drive 
them” advice of 1890s-era parent counselor Hannah Smith. George Bums re- 
called that at bedtime his mother “would stand there with the door open. When 
the house was full she’d close it. Sometimes I made it, sometimes I slept in the 
hall.” The fiftyish Progressive Jacob Riis, stepping into a tenement, noted that 
“the hall is dark and you might stumble over children pitching pennies back 
there. Not that it would hurt them; kicks and cuffs are their daily diet. They 
have little else.” Unsupervised by parents or governments, children surged into 
the labor market — girls as piece-rate “homeworkers,” boys as newsies, boot- 
blacks, scavengers, messengers, “cash boys,” nonunion cigar-rollers, or ten- 
hours-a-day coal miners. What they earned (and their parents didn’t take away), 
they spent. A few pennies in the hand became a ticket to a world of playful 
consumption. 

Although Dewey-style “progressive” educational reforms were already in 
full gear, Lost kids found school irrelevant next to the grim realities of street 
life. “School was all wrong,” complained Harpo Marx. “School simply didn’t 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


255 


teach you how to be poor and live from day to day.” (Harpo “dropped out” 
when classroom toughs threw him out the window when the teacher wasn’t 
looking.) When it suited them. Lost children mingled well with adults, but their 
hardened precocity sat badly with values-focused elders. Addams decried the 
kids’ jaunty consumerism, Bryan their cynicism, Theodore Roosevelt the ruth- 
lessness of their football (eighteen college players died on the field in 1905 
alone). Roosevelt’s daughter Alice — smoking, swearing, and sipping champagne 
in the White House — became a headline-grabbing symbol of a child generation 
growing up “bad.” The Progressive G. Stanley Hall was the first to label these 
unrestrained young savages “adolescents”; he was also the first to ascribe their 
moral development to sex drives rather than to religion. “Never has youth been 
exposed to such dangers of both perversion and arrest as in our own land and 
day,” he lamented. Thomas Wolfe soon wondered “what has happened to the 
spontaneous gaiety of youth” — children who are “without innocence, bom old 
and stale and dull and empty . . . suckled on darkness, and weaned on violence 
and noise.” “They tried to shut their eyes,” recalled Mike Gold of the adults 
he met when he was a hustling street urchin. “We children did not shut our 
eyes. We saw and knew.” Some did well, but a larger number did badly. Living 
and dying by their new credo “It’s up to you,” these “kids” were already 
paying the dues of independence. 

COMING OF AGE: “We have in our unregenerate youth . . . been forced 
to become realists,” declared 23-year-old John Carter shortly after the 
Armistice. “At 17 we were disillusioned and weary,” recalled Malcolm Cowley. 
The Lost came of age hearing sixtyish Progressives describe how civilization 
must inexorably climb to higher levels of Edwardian refinement and control, but 
a series of disasters that no one could explain (including the San Francisco 
earthquake and the sinking of the Titanic ) made them wonder. They watched 
Missionaries rise to power pontificating about a society whose seamy and ra- 
pacious underside — from sweatshop children and young prostitutes to widespread 
drug abuse and gang violence — only teenagers could see with clarity. Most 20- 
year-olds turned a deaf ear toward older, campus-touring radicals like Jack 
London and Upton Sinclair. “College students are more conservative than their 
professors because they too often regard college as a back door to big business,” 
observed one disappointed student organizer. Well before World War I, the first 
signs of alienation surfaced. In 1908, the youthful Van Wyck Brooks wrote 
Wine of the Puritans , his title popularizing a word that fresh Ivy League graduates 
(in Seven Arts) would soon paste on their next-elders. In 1913, magazines pro- 
claimed “Sex O’Clock in America,” announcing what soon became known as 
a “revolution in morals.” Then came the “Flapper of 1915,” who (reported 
Mencken) “has forgotten how to simper; she seldom blushes; and it is impossible 
to shock her.” 

These youth crosscurrents came together in World War I — a war they would 



256 


GENERATIONS 


call “the sausage machine,” the ultimate evidence of their elders’ colossal 
blindness. Hemingway, Dos Passos, Cowley, and cummings; all volunteered as 
ambulance drivers, immediate eyewitnesses to the worst carnage. “Abstract 
words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete 
names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of 
regiments and dates,” wrote Hemingway. After the war, while many young 
intellectuals lingered in Paris (“I prefer to starve where the food is good,” 
chided Virgil Thompson), most doughboys returned home to a nation firmly in 
Missionary control. There, wrote Fitzgerald, “men of fifty had the gall” to tell 
veterans of 30 how to behave. The Lost “Flaming Youth” instinctively bucked 
and turned toward pleasure-seeking. Already in 1915, Bruce Barton penned A 
Young Man's Jesus , almost a parody of Missionary evangelism, urging “those 
of us who are this side of thirty-five to unite and take back our Jesus, ... a 
young man glowing with physical strength and the joy of living” and possessing 
“our bounding pulses, our hot desires.” Soon after the war, Sinclair Lewis 
scored two more salvos in Main Street and Elmer Gantry. Triggering the “roar” 
of the Twenties, the Lost prompted Missionaries to roar back about the “Problem 
of the Younger Generation.” The Lost knew they were bad, yet refused to take 
all the heat. In his 1920 Atlantic Monthly article entitled “ ‘These Wild Young 
People’ By One of Them,” Carter observed that “magazines have been crowded 
with pessimistic descriptions of the younger generation” — but added, “the old- 
er generation has certainly pretty well ruined this world before passing it on 
to us.” 

RISING ADULTHOOD: “The shows were broader, the buildings were 
higher, the morals were looser, and the liquor was cheaper,” Fitzgerald wrote 
from New York City in 1926, at the height of the fun, “but all these did not 
really minister to much delight. Young people wore out early — they were hard 
and languid. . . . The city was bloated, glutted, stupid with cakes and circuses, 
and a new expression, ‘O yeah?’ summed up all the enthusiasm. ...” Uptown, 
Lost blacks streaming in from the South touched off a cultural explosion. While 
“Garveyism” held out new hopes of racial independence and Claude McKay 
wrote Home to Harlem , Alain Locke proclaimed the birth of “the New Negro,” 
free of “cautious moralisms” and “the trammels of Puritanism.” DuBois and 
other older Missionaries did not always approve. “The leaders of the NAACP,” 
explains literary historian Sterling Brown, “felt that the characterization of Har- 
lem sweet-backs and hot mammas did injustice to their propaganda and pur- 
poses.” But music named after a black idiom for sex — “jazz” — drew crowds 
of white urbanites and put its stamp on an era of youthful hedonism and what- 
you-see-is-what-you-get cynicism. As male bootleggers built entrepreneurial em- 
pires in defiance of Prohibition, blase garqonnes like Dorothy Parker and Zelda 
Fitzgerald disappointed older suffragettes. “The Jazz Age . . . had no interest at 
all in politics,” recalled Fitzgerald. But if their ideas were languid, Lost dancing 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


257 


was “jitterbug” kinetic. These 30-year-olds cherished money, leisure, and 
style — from chromy Art Deco and Metropolis futurism to Arabian luxury. Lost- 
directed movies scorched audiences with what one producer called “neckers, 
petters, white kisses, red kisses, pleasure-mad daughters, sensation-craving 
mothers.” 

By their early forties, Lost entrepreneurs were inventing supermarkets and 
shopping centers, soda fountains and cafeterias, frozen foods and automats — 
all for their faster pace of living. “Self-help” experts Dale Carnegie and Norman 
Vincent Peale knew how to counsel a generation that cared far more about success 
than expressing any feeling of self-worth. (“Win, win, win . . . but always avoid 
the pronoun ‘I.’ ”) As Fitzgerald declared that “living well is the best revenge” 
and the Great Gatsby pined after Daisy — “her voice is full of money” — “King- 
fish” Huey Long made points with the luckless in Louisiana by declaring “every 
man a king” and then picking every man’s pockets. Like Ty Cobb, sliding spikes 
high into home plate, the Lost directed their most savage competitive instincts 
against their own peers. The mood began darkening in 1927 with the execution 
of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, pathetic victims of Missionary zeal. 
Wrote Vanzetti bitterly just before his death: “Our words — our lives — our pain: 
nothing!” “For de little stealin’ dey gits you in jail soon or late,” wrote Eugene 
O’Neill in The Emperor Jones. “For de big stealin’ dey makes you emperor 
and puts you in de Hall o’ Fame when you croaks.” Come 1929, the St. 
Valentine’s Day Massacre shocked public opinion (“lousy public relations,” 
admitted Capone). Sinclair Lewis ridiculed the “chilly enthusiasms” of elder 
New Humanists, but in A Preface to Morals Walter Lippmann reflected omi- 
nously on his generation’s mental and ethical chaos. Fitzgerald kept his room 
full of calendars and clocks, ticking away toward the collective “crash” his 
peers could sense was coming. A few (like Joseph Kennedy) sold out just in 
time, but the typical youngish investor had the bad luck to buy into the market 
relatively late, making the bust all the more painful. 

MIDLIFE: Malcolm Cowley called 1930 a year of “doubt and even defeat” 
for his generation — a year of broken friendships, sudden poverty, and suicide. 
It was the start of their collective midlife hangover, the Great Depression. Their 
party over and their style suddenly repudiated, the Lost faced the future armed 
only with the courage of despair. “Now once more the belt is tight and we 
summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth,” 
observed Fitzgerald, though he suspected that his was “a generation with no 
second acts.” The alienation of 1920s-era intellectuals now reached the poor 
and the rural. Sullen “Hoovervilles” filled with unemployed men approaching 
the prime of life without hope. Since jobs were scarce, priority went to household 
heads — narrowing women’s horizons and recasting many unemployed husbands 
as “breadwinner” failures. Assuming the social responsibilities of midlife, the 
Lost gave the 1930s their gritty quality. “Everything depends on the use to 



258 


GENERATIONS 


which it is put,” explained Reinhold Niebuhr in Moral Man and Immoral Society , 
warning against 4 ‘poles of foolishness” and setting the moral tone for a generation 
now bent on doing the right thing with or without faith. 

As the 1930s unfolded, midlife veterans watched the German soldier gen- 
eration they had already met in battle turn into on-the-march fascists. A few 
joined the call for national preparedness, including the tortoises who began 
overtaking hares among the Lost elite — from Raymond Moley and his FDR 
“brain trust” to a new cadre of Jewish and immigrant intellectuals. Knowing 
firsthand the horror of war, however, most Lost were uninspired by another 
call to global altruism. Opinion leaders like Senator Gerald Nye feared that a 
Roosevelt-led crusade might enslave America under what Moley (by now anti- 
Roosevelt) called the “iron hand of the Government.” Still less did they admire 
the New Deal. Edmund Wilson called it “the warning of a dictatorship.” But 
Missionary leaders knew how to hit back where it hurt. While Harold Ickes 
ridiculed Huey Long for “halitosis of the intellect,” FDR quipped that “Amer- 
icans are going through a bad case of Huey Long and Father Coughlin influenza. ’ ’ 
In 1941 , when the Lost at last attained a congressional majority, Wendell Willkie 
and Arthur Vandenberg quashed their peers’ truculence in the face of obvious 
danger. In World War II, the Lost were the charismatic “G.I.s’ generals” whose 
daring (George Patton), warmth (Omar Bradley), and patience (Dwight Eisen- 
hower) energized younger troops. Fiftyish civilians administered the home front 
with the homely and unpretentious composure suggested in the paintings of the 
like-aged Norman Rockwell. By war’s end, Truman asserted a pragmatism borne 
of a lifetime of “hard knocks.” Doing lonely battle like Hemingway’s bullfighter, 
Truman took “the heat” and ultimately succeeded in showing the door to two 
pompous old Missionaries: General MacArthur and John L. Lewis. 

ELDERHOOD: Hemingway once described “the wisdom of old men” as 
a great fallacy: “They do not grow wise. They grow careful.” Like so many 
of the Lost literary elite, Hemingway never reached old age himself — but his 
description was prescient for those who did in the 1950s and 1960s. Recalling 
a lifetime spent scrambling away from grand public crusades, the old Lost balked 
at expressions of lofty ideals and hesitated to approve of anything they considered 
too bold, too daring, too dangerous. Their leaders’ grandest national vision was, 
as Eisenhower described it, to project a “respectable image of American life 
before the world.” Golf-playing “Ike” took few chances abroad, enacted few 
new programs, and opposed any newfangled “moon rocket.” America’s last 
President to resist deficit financing, he also set a stable economic foundation for 
the Go-Go Sixties (for which G.I. Presidents would later take credit). Midway 
through only their third elected Presidential term, the Lost learned they had 
already overstayed their welcome. In the off-year election of 1958, they were 
annihilated at the voting booth by younger G.I.s (nearly all Democrats), and 
two years later Eisenhower heard himself attacked by both of the younger Pres- 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


259 


idential candidates. In return, after musing over the new cult of bigness and 
energy, he offered a farewell warning against what he labeled the “military- 
industrial complex.” 

Their exit from the public eye was sudden and complete. By the time Kennedy 
was taking “longer strides” in 1961, the Lost already seemed an antediluvian 
memory: “old whale” mayors and tobacco-chewing “Dixiecrats,” fading bureau 
chiefs like J. Edgar Hoover and Lewis Hershey, grimy mobsters like Lucky 
Luciano and Truman’s Pendergast hacks (squinting under the spotlight glare of 
G.I. inquisitors). A decade later, a few Lost survivors saw their image revive. 
Sam Ervin emerged as a national dispenser of country justice, Claude Pepper 
as a protector of younger G.I.s then on the brink of retirement. The Pepper- 
advocated expansion of elder benefits came too late for his own peers, most of 
whom never saw a “COLA” or a Medicare card. Then again, few Lost had 
ever asked for them. In 1959, when Ethel Andrus founded the American As- 
sociation of Retired Persons (now a powerful G.I. lobby), she refused “to bewail 
the hardships of old age . . . nor to stress the potential political strength of older 
folk, nor to urge governmental subsidy. ” In 1964, after Barry Goldwater broadly 
hinted that he would weaken Social Security, he ran far stronger with the Lost 
than with any other generation. That’s how the Lost preferred it: no favors for 
a generation that always knew, deep down, they were “bad boys.” Having 
grown up in an age of horsecarts and Russian czars, they grew old feeling like 
aliens in their juniors’ space-age world. During the 1950s, while younger G.I. 
“gerontologists” defined retirement as “permission to disengage,” a younger 
G.I. playwright (Arthur Miller) let the worn-out salesman Willie Loman “fall 
into his grave like an old dog.” Younger audiences winced, but not the Lost. 
As Dorothy Parker proved — “poor son of a bitch,” she said when she saw 
Fitzgerald’s body — this generation never cared much for mincing words. 

* * * 

Virgil Thompson once described his writings as “sassy but classy” — three 
words that epitomize our memory of his generation. As America’s first (and, 
many say, best) film stars, the Lost left behind a celluloid image of their versatile 
personality: from physicality (Mae West, Jimmy Cagney), mischief (the Marx 
Brothers), and evil (Edward G. Robinson, Boris Karloff) to savoir-faire (Rudolph 
Valentino, Mary Pickford), adventure (Douglas Fairbanks), and keen survivalism 
(Humphrey Bogart). As the last generation to come of age without electronic 
media, the Lost stand as America’s most gifted cadre of wordsmiths: They won 
five of America’s nine Nobel Prizes for Literature and produced our culture’s 
most memorable song lyrics (Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein). Louis Armstrong 
and Duke Ellington introduced improvisational jazz, America’s first naughty- 
sounding music. These are lasting gifts from a generation for whom, in Dorothy 
Parker’s words, “art is a form of catharsis,” an instinctive response to a whirl- 
wind existence. In their entertainment was a no-nonsense lesson about how the 
individual can maintain his sanity in a harsh and unjust world. “Living is 



260 


GENERATIONS 


struggle,” wrote Thornton Wilder in The Skin of Our Teeth. “Every good and 
excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of 
danger and must be fought for — whether it’s a field, a home, or a country.” 
Paul Tillich explained in his old age: “Our generation has seen the horrors latent 
in man’s being rise to the surface and erupt.” 

With little philosophizing, the Lost did history’s dirty work: attacking Belleau 
Wood, mapping D-Day, dropping A-bombs, and containing Stalinism. Whatever 
they did, they half expected history to someday blame them. In some cases, 
history has: for Earl Warren’s internment of Japanese- Americans, for example, 
or “Dixiecrat” foot-dragging on civil rights. Yet, mostly, the Lost showed 
unthanked kindness to other generations. After fighting in two world wars and 
bearing the brunt of the Great Depression, the peers of Truman and Eisenhower 
accepted, without complaint, 91 percent marginal tax rates to balance the budget, 
liquidate war debt, finance the Marshall Plan, and pay out generous G.I. benefits. 
They demonstrated (as Bruce Barton put it) that “a man may be down but he 
is never out.” When it was up to them, they did indeed “play the sap” for their 
elders and juniors. Such sacrifices made possible an era their children and grand- 
children now nostalgically recall as the “American High.” Yet the Lost taught 
us more than self-effacing goodwill. From George Patton leading G.I.s in the 
Battle of the Bulge to George Bums tutoring 13ers in 18 Again!, they showed 
us something about what they liked to call “guts.” So too did they remind us 
how to have a good time by being just a little “bad.” As Malcolm Cowley put 
it: “Did other generations ever laugh so hard together, drink and dance so hard, 
or do crazier things just for the hell of it?” 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


261 


G.I. GENERATION 

Bom: 1901-1924 
Type: Civic 

Age Location: 

Great Depression- World War II Crisis in rising adulthood 
Boom Awakening in elderhood 

With his triumphant transatlantic flight in 1927, 25-year-old Charles Lind- 
bergh heralded the arrival of a new and very special crop of young adults. 
Landing in Paris, the adopted home of exiled Lost intellectuals, “Lucky Lindy” 
didn’t seem one bit alienated or debauched. President Coolidge dispatched 
a navy cruiser to bring home the young pilot — to 18,000 tons of confetti, 
the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the first-ever designation as an “all- 
American hero.” Dutifully modest about his exploits, he startled (and pleased) 
elders by turning down lucrative movie offers. A decade later, Lindy’s depres- 
sion-era peers were busy planting trees and building dams and bridges — and, a 
few years after that, Missionary General George Marshall praised the G.I. GEN- 
ERATION as “the best damned kids in the world.” When these “kids” became 
America’s first astronauts, younger generations hailed their “right stuff,” US. 
News and World Report their “fearless but not reckless” manner. John Kennedy 
declared his generation’s commitment to land a man on the moon by the end of 
the 1960s. And they did, in what Eric Hoffer proclaimed “the triumph of the 
squares.” Throughout their lives, these G.I.s have been America’s confident 
and rational problem-solvers: victorious soldiers and Rosie the Riveters; Nobel 
laureates; makers of Minuteman missiles, interstate highways, Apollo rockets, 
battleships, and miracle vaccines; the creators of Disney’s Tomorrowland; 
“men’s men” who have known how to get things done. Whatever they accom- 
plished — whether organizing “big bands,” swarming ashore in Normandy, or 
making “Bible Epic” movies, they always seemed to do it big, to do it together. 
Among G.I.s, says the inscription on their Iwo Jima shrine, “uncommon valor 
was a common virtue.” 

In his inaugural address. President Kennedy crisply defined his peers as “bom 
in this century” — and, among this history-absorbed generation, many do per- 
ceive the twentieth as “their” century. The G.I. first wave (Walt Disney, Arthur 
Godfrey, Ronald Reagan) had more of the jaunty optimists, the last wave (Lee 
Iacocca, George Bush, Lloyd Bentsen) more of the clean-cut rationalists. Several 
scholars have suggested that the 1900 birthyear represents what Leonard Cain 



G.I. GENERATION (Bom 1901 to 1924) 


TYPE: Civic 

Total number: 63,000,000 
Now alive in U.S.: 29,000,000 
Percent immigrant: 9% 


FAMILY TREE 

Typical grandparents: Progressive 
Parents: Missionary and Lost 
Children: Silent and Boom 
Typical grandchildren: Thirteenth 


SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 


PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 


1901 Walt Disney (1966) 

1902 Charles Lindbergh (1974) 

1902 John Steinbeck (1968) 

1903 Bob Hope 

1904 Robert Oppenheimer (1967) 
1907 John Wayne (1979) 

1907 Katharine Hepburn 

1907 William Levitt 

1908 John Kenneth Galbraith 
1908 Jimmy Stewart 

1912 Tip O’Neill 
1914 Joe DiMaggio 
1914 William Westmoreland 
1916 Robert McNamara 
1916 Walter Cronkite 
1918 Billy Graham 
1918 Ann Landers 
1922 Judy Garland (1969) 

1924 Sidney Poitier 


1924 Lee Iacocca 

Age 

Date 

0- 9 

1910 


0-22 

1923 


3-26 

1927 


8-31 

1932 


17-40 

1941 


21-44 

1945 


30-53 

1954 


37-60 

1961 


41-64 

1965 


45-68 

1969 


50-73 

1974 


65-88 

1989 



Plurality in House: 1953-1975 
Plurality in Senate: 1959-1979 
Majority in Supreme Court: 1967— 

U S. PRESIDENTS: 1961- 

1908 Lyndon B. Johnson (1973) 

1911 Ronald Reagan 

1913 Richard Nixon 

1913 Gerald Ford 

1917 John F. Kennedy (1963) 

1924 Jimmy Carter 

1924 George Bush 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1903 George Orwell (1950) 

1906 Leonid Brezhnev (1982) 
1913 Willy Brandt 
1917 Ferdinand Marcos (1989) 
1919 Shah Riza Pahlavi (1980) 

HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 


Boy Scouts founded, followed by Girl Scouts (1912) 

Rose Bowl opens; university enrollments rise sharply 

Charles Lindbergh completes first transatlantic flight 

Roosevelt elected with 85 percent support from voters under age 30 

Pearl Harbor Sunday; all men age 20-44 subject to conscription 

VE- and VJ-Day; G.I. Bill begins paying out benefits 

McCarthy hearings; anticommunist witchhunt 

Kennedy brings “best and brightest” into White House 

LBJ plans “Great Society”; 89th Congress enacts Medicare 

Apollo 1 1 puts man on the moon; Vietnam protests peak 

Watergate scandal; stagflation; Social Security benefit levels surge 

Bush, Reagan hail spread of democracy in Eastern Europe and USSR 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck); Snow White 
and the Seven Dwarfs (film, Walt Disney); In the Mood (Glenn Miller); The Honeymooners 
(TV show, Jackie Gleason); The Origins of Totalitarianism (Hannah Arendt); West Side Story 
(Leonard Bernstein); The Making of the President: I960 (Theodore White); Modern Economic 
Growth (Simon Kuznets); Roots (Alex Haley); Profiles in Courage (John Kennedy); The 
Feminine Mystique (Betty Friedan); War and Remembrance (Herman Wouk) 




THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


263 


calls a “generational watershed.” Cain documents how the children bom just 
after 1900 were much more “favored” than those bom just before — in families, 
schools, and jobs — and how that favored treatment led to important personality 
differences that have lasted a lifetime. First- wave G.I.s were truly “special” 
kids who grew up in the most carefully shaped of twentieth-century childhoods, 
thanks to Missionary parents determined to produce kids as good as the Lost 
had been bad. From youth to old age, the babies of the century’s first decade 
commanded the admiration (and generosity) of older and younger generations. 
They became America’s first Boy and Girl Scouts — and, a half-century later, 
America’s first “senior citizens.” At the other boundary, the babies of 1923 
and 1924 were just old enough to be drafted, trained, and shipped to Omaha 
Beach and Iwo Jima in time to join in the heaviest fighting; those bom a year 
or two later were in line to fight battles that never came. That too produced 
personality differences that have lasted a lifetime. World War II provided last- 
wave G.I.s with a coming-of-age slingshot, a catharsis more heroic and em- 
powering than any since the American Revolution. Where World War I had 
cheated the optimism of youth, this war rewarded it — and implanted an enduring 
sense of civic virtue and entitlement. The combination of “good-kid” first- 
wavers and heroic last-wavers produced a generation of enormous economic and 
political power, what Henry Malcolm describes as a generation of “Prometheus 
and Adam” — a generation, as one admirer said of James Reston, that has always 
shared an “implicit belief in progress and in the central role of great men.” 
The unstoppable energy of G.I.s is well characterized in their most enduring 
comic strip character: Superman. Conceived by two thirty ish cartoonists, Super- 
man became famous just before their G.I. peers entered World War II and 
themselves began showing “powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men.” 
Everything about the Superman story reads like a parable of G.I.s on the move — 
the special child, the corrupt older (Lost) Lex Luthor, the rocklike manliness 
and Formica-like blandness, the unvarying success of Supermannish strength 
used for community good. Can poverty be eradicated, Model Cities built, busi- 
ness cycles tamed, Nazis and Communists beaten? Step aside, this is a job for 
Superpower America — and a generation willing, in Kennedy’s words, to “bear 
any burden, pay any price” to accomplish whatever goal it sets. No other 
generation this century has felt (or been) so Promethean, so godlike in its col- 
lective, world-bending power. Nor has any been so adept in its aptitude for 
science and engineering. G.I.s invented, perfected, and stockpiled the atomic 
bomb, a weapon so muscular it changed history forever. This intensely left- 
brained generation looked upon their Apollo 1 1 moon landing as (in Ayn Rand’s 
words) “the embodied concretization of a single faculty of man: his rationality.” 
Rand’s peers became the consummate mid-twentieth-century “technocrats” (a 
word then connoting unrivaled American competence). So too did they become 
the nation’s greatest-ever economists, social engineers, and community planners, 
producing what Seymour Martin Lipset in 1960 termed “the shift away from 



264 


GENERATIONS 


ideology toward sociology.” “What we need is a technology of behavior,” 
urged B. F. Skinner, whose Active utopia, Walden Two , epitomized his peers’ 
lifelong (and entirely unThoreaulike) confidence that they could design and build 
their way to social bliss. Such a generation has had little thirst for spiritual 
conversion, no need for transcending to a new consciousness. Their most influ- 
ential new religion has been L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology. Their most popular 
definition of God has been the Deity of Isaac Singer who “speaks in deeds, in 
events.” And their most enduring images of prophecy have featured Billy Gra- 
ham, America’s first televangelist, or Charlton Heston throwing bolts of lightning 
before a cast of thousands. “We do not need American philosophers,” remarked 
Daniel Boorstin in the late 1960s; to G.I.s like Boorstin, the ideology of America 
is “implicit in the American way of life.” 

Valuing outer life over inner, G.I.s came of age preferring crisp sex-role 
definitions. Raised under the influence of the strongly pro-feminist Missionaries, 
G.I.s matured into a father- worshiping and heavily male-fixated generation. As 
rising adults, they came to disdain womanish influences on public life. “Gentle- 
men, mom is a jerk,” wrote Philip Wylie in his best-selling Generation of Vipers, 
a book published in the same year (1942) that Army psychiatrists were themselves 
complaining how badly Army recruits had been overmothered in the years before 
the war. “It was suddenly discovered that the mother could be blamed for 
everything,” Betty Friedan later recalled. After the war, G. I. -authored books 
like Modern Woman: The Lost Sex and Educating Our Daughters launched what 
historian Carl Degler terms “a frontal assault on all feminist assumptions.” 
Before Friedan defrocked the (mostly G.I.) “Feminine Mystique” in 1963, her 
male peers had succeeded in creating a Father Knows Best culture and a political 
vocabulary whose greatest “witchhunt” insults (“simpering,” “cringing,” 
“slobbering”) were challenges against virility. The G.I.s’ rift with their own 
children arose, in substantial part, from the refusal of Boomer youths to accept 
the exaggerated masculinity of G.I. fathers. Even through the social calm of the 
1980s, G.I. maleness has rankled younger women, provoking a political “gender 
gap” that has been more generational than partisan. Like Ronald Reagan, the 
classic G.I. man feels little guilt — and like John Kennedy, he believes that “a 
man does what he must.” Consider their Hollywood honor roll: Bob Hope, John 
Wayne, Bing Crosby, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Sidney 
Poitier, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck. Turn on the camera, let a G.I. be a G.I., 
and — like Robert Mitchum’s “Pug Henry” in Herman Wouk’s War and Re- 
membrance — he’ll get the job done. 

The initials “G.I.” can stand for two things — “general issue” and “gov- 
ernment issue” — and this generation’s lifecycle has stood squarely for both. All 
their lives, G.I.s have placed a high priority on being “general” or “regular” 
(as in “he’s a regular guy”), since regularity is a prerequisite for being effective 
“team players.” They developed this instinct young, building in high school 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


265 


and college what historian Paula Fass labels a “peer society” — a harmonious 
community of group-enforced virtue. As children, they were nurtured to believe 
that anything standardized and prepackaged was more likely to be wholesome. 
When they came of age. President Roosevelt remarked with delight how “the 
very objectives of young people have changed”: away from “the dream of the 
golden ladder — each individual for himself” and toward the dream of “a broad 
highway on which thousands of your fellow men and women are advancing with 
you.” Later, G.I. collegialism energized America’s V-for-victory wartime mood. 
Highways that had once teemed with frivolous auto traffic now channeled mile- 
long convoys of powerful, identical-looking military vehicles. After the war, 
the peer society reached its pinnacle in the postwar suburban society, with its 
“Wonder Bread” blandness, its “Spic and Span” kitchens, and its borrow-a- 
mower neighborliness. While the Ozzies and Harriets were busy constructing 
the most conformist culture of the twentieth century, Richard Nixon and Joe 
McCarthy launched a purge of Alger Hiss, the Hollywood Ten, and other G.I.s 
who had earlier espoused a conformist ideology of the wrong (Soviet) variety. 
“Anticommunism” thus became a post- World War II bugaboo among a gen- 
eration that, within itself, has always had a strong collectivist reflex. Even during 
the McCarthy hearings, G.I.s on both sides of the table dressed in the same gray 
suits — and after each day’s adjournment, no doubt went home to watch the same 
TV shows in houses Malvina Reynolds memorialized as “little boxes . . . made 
out of ticky-tacky/ And they all look just the same.” 

Likewise, their personality has carried a strong “government issue” flavor. 
The G.I. lifecycle has shown an extraordinary association with the growth of 
modem government activity, much of it directed toward whatever phase of life 
they occupied. When G.I.s were young, government protected them from people 
and things that could hurt them. When they were coming of age, government 
gave them jobs. When they were rising adults, government provided them with 
numerous preferential advantages in education, employment, and family for- 
mation. When they were in midlife, they benefited from tax cuts and an economy 
run full throttle. When they reached elderhood, they received newly generous 
pensions and subsidized medical care — and gained more than others from deficit- 
laden financing schemes that pushed costs far into the future. Not surprisingly, 
G.I.s have always regarded government as their benefactor, almost like a buddy 
who has grown up right alongside them. They have been what historian Joseph 
Goulden describes as “a generation content to put its trust in government and 
authority,” a generation that instinctively abides by the will of the “community,” 
what President Bush describes as “a beautiful word with big meaning.” People 
of other ages have always seen civic virtue in this generation — and, as a con- 
sequence, G.I.s have been the beneficiary of an unmatched flow of payments 
and other kindnesses from people older and younger than they. 

G.I.s have regarded their own civic-mindedness as proof of American ex- 



266 


GENERATIONS 


ceptionalism, a belief (in the words of Daniel Bell) that “having been born free, 
America would in the trials of history get off scot free.” Even in old age, this 
great generation of “doers” believes (like 73-year-old Ronald Reagan in 1985) 
that America always stands “on the threshold of a great ability to produce more, 
do more, be more.” Whatever G.I.s together accomplish in the exercise of 
citizenship, they think, must by definition be good for all generations. In this 
hubris has come more than a little miscalculation and disappointment, in both 
public and family lives. But G.I.s have never stopped trying to make things 
work. From “Lucky Lindy” to “Joltin’ Joe,” “Happy Hubert” to “the Teflon 
President,” this generation has spent a lifetime personifying the irrepressibility 
of modem America. “Despair comes hard to us,” says Eda LeShan, “for it 
was unfamiliar in our growing.” None can match G.I.s for knowing how to Ac- 
Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive — for better or worse. In 1988, when 80-year-old 
physicist Edward Teller testified in support of the Strategic Defense Initiative, 
younger congressmen asked him whether “Star Wars” would in fact work as 
intended. This G.I. father of the H-bomb testily answered the nitpickers: “Let 
me plead guilty to the great crime of optimism.” 


G.I. Facts 

• From first wave to last, the G.I.s have been a generation of trends — always 

in directions most people (certainly their Missionary elders) thought for the 
better: lower rates of suicide and crime, higher aptitudes, greater educational 
attainment, increased voter participation, and rising confidence in govern- 
ment. 

• Throughout the G.I. lifecycle, the federal government has directed its attention 

to whatever age bracket the G.I.s have occupied. The childhood years of 
first- wave G.I.s were marked by the first White House Conference on 
Children (1909), the creation of the U.S. Children’s Bureau (1912), and 
the first federal child labor law (1916). The elder years of first-wave G.I.s 
were marked by the first White House Conference on Aging (1961), the 
first federal age-discrimination law (1967), and the creation of the National 
Institute on Aging (1974). The entire modem growth in government spend- 
ing has coincided with the duration of their adult lifecycle. When a G.I. 
bom in 1910 turned 19, the federal government consumed less than 3 percent 
of the nation’s economic product; when he reached age 70, it consumed 
over 22 percent. 

• The rate of child labor fell by half during the G.I. youth era — the largest one- 

generation decline ever. These were the first boys and girls whose pin money 
came from “allowances” for good behavior, not from earnings. They put 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


267 


three-fourths of their allowance money into school supplies, church boxes, 
or savings. From the mid- 1920s to the early 1930s, the proportion of youths 
doing the family dishes rose from 32 to 52 percent, even as more adults 
remained at home. 

• In most measures of health, the G.I.s have shown a swifter improvement over 

their next-elders than any other American generation. From the 1900 to 
1924 cohorts, infant and child mortality fell by 50 percent, adult height 
rose by over one inch, and life expectancy at age 65 rose by 20 percent. 
Raised on pasteurized milk, safely packaged foods, and “vitamins,” com- 
ing-of-age G.I.s did indeed appear to Missionary and Lost elders as the 
brawny, world-moving youths shown in WPA murals. 

• G.I.s produced by far the largest one-generation jump in educational achieve- 

ment in American history. From Lost to G.I. , the average length of schooling 
rose from the ninth-grade level to the twelfth, the share of 20-year-olds 
attending college tripled, and math and science aptitudes rose sharply. 
Meanwhile, the proportion of high school students taking foreign languages 
fell from a pre-World War I peak of 83 percent to a World War II-era low 
of 21 percent. On campus, religious or “missionary” organizations expe- 
rienced a sharp decline in memberships during the 1920s — and practically 
disappeared during the 1930s. 

• Nearly the entire array of modem scouting organizations were founded by 

midlife Missionaries just when first-wave G.I.s were reaching puberty: Boy 
Scouts (1910), Camp Fire Girls (1910), Girl Scouts (1912), and 4-H Clubs 
(1914). From their scouting days forward, G.I.s have been the most uni- 
formed generation in American history. As young adults, 2.5 million wore 
the CCC forest green. Nearly half of all G.I. men wore a military uniform 
in wartime — the highest proportion for any American generation. 

• While the best-known Lost heroes were individuals (Eddie Rickenbacker, 

Jimmy Doolittle), the enduring G.I. heroes have been collective (the flag- 
raisers at Iwo Jima, the Boys of D-Day, the Seabees). Knute Rockne and 
George Gipp were Lost, the “Four Horsemen” G.I.s. 

• From the 1930s forward, the G.I.s have been the only generation to support 

the winning candidate in every election. In all three close elections (1948, 
1960, and 1968), G.I.s tipped the outcome to their preferred candidate. 
Surveys show that 80 percent of all first- wave G.I. voters opted for Franklin 
Roosevelt in 1932 and 85 percent in 1936, the largest single-generation 
mandates ever recorded. Last- wave G.I.s congealed into the core of the 
postwar New Deal coalition; by midlife and elderhood, 65 percent of them 
confirmed an allegiance to the Democratic Party (though they often voted 
for Republican G.I. Presidents). G.I.s also included the first generation of 



268 


GENERATIONS 


blacks to abandon the Party of Lincoln: In 1944, 82 percent of Harlem 
blacks under age 44 voted for FDR, versus only 59 percent over that age. 

• G.I.s have held the White House for thirty years, won nine Presidential elec- 

tions, and run on major-party tickets twelve straight times (spanning the 
forty-four years between 1944 and 1988). No other generation except the 
Republicans comes close to any of these numbers. 

• G.I.s have won ninety-nine Nobel Prizes, roughly two-thirds of all the Nobels 

ever awarded to Americans. They have thoroughly dominated the prizes in 
physics, chemistry, and medicine, and (through 1989) have won all of 
America’s fourteen economics Nobels. However, other generations have 
eclipsed G.I.s in literature and peace prizes. 

• G.I.s have experienced the “American Dream” of upward mobility and rising 

homeownership more than any other generation this century, and perhaps 
ever. Six in seven G.I.s report having fared better financially than their 
parents, the highest proportion ever recorded. In 1940, 46 percent of Amer- 
ican houses were owner-occupied; by 1960, the proportion had risen to 64 
percent — roughly where it has remained ever since. New houses were never 
more affordable than in the early 1950s, when the typical 35-year-old’s 
income was $3,000 per year, mortgage rates were 4 percent, and a new 
Levittown home sold for $7,000 ($350 down and $30 per month). 

• Relative to younger generations, G.I.s have been by far the most affluent elders 

of the twentieth century. Where Lost elders (in 1960) had the highest poverty 
rate of any age bracket, G.I.s (today) have the lowest, when all public 
benefits are included as income. G.I. elders tower over younger adults in 
rates of homeownership and health-insurance coverage, and in average 
dollars of discretionary income and household net worth. In 1988, 47 percent 
of G.I.s “almost never” worry about finances, making theirs the least 
worrying of living generations. 

• G.I. first-wavers sparked the modem “senior citizen” movement, and G.I. 

last-wavers have benefited the most from it. America’s first (and now largest) 
retirement community, Sun City, was founded in 1960. The Social Security 
retirement age was lowered to age 62 for men in 1962. Medicare was 
founded in 1965. The largest rise in Social Security benefit levels occurred 
between 1972 and 1981. The membership of elder organizations (and the 
circulation of “senior” newspapers) grew sixty fold between the early 1960s 
and the late 1970s. By 1990, the American Association of Retired Persons 
had become the largest and wealthiest advocacy organization in the nation’s 
history. 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


269 


• Through the 1950s and early 1960s — when the Lost were reaching age 65 — 

federal benefits per elderly person rose less rapidly than the average wage. 
From 1965 to 1989 — as G.I.s have reached age 65 — federal benefits per 
elderly person have risen fifteen times more rapidly than wages (300 percent 
versus less than 20 percent, in inflation-adjusted dollars). In 1989, total 
federal benefits averaged over $14,000 per elderly household. Social Se- 
curity and Medicare benefits have paid back most G.I.s for the entire value 
of their prior payroll tax contributions (including employer contributions 
and interest) within four years after retiring. The 1990 deficit reduction law 
imposed a 1991 maximum of $41 in extra Medicare charges per G.I. ben- 
eficiary, and up to $2,137 in extra Medicare taxes per younger worker. 

• Entering old age, G.I.s have remained the most upbeat (or, as they would put 

it, “copacetic”) generation of their time. Between 1957 and 1976, the share 
of elderly scoring “very high” on a psychological scale of anxiety fell from 
22 to 15 percent (while the corresponding share for younger age brackets 
rose sharply). Recent polls show people over age 65 comprising America’s 
“happiest” age bracket. In a 1990 poll taken of the surviving Harvard Class 
of 1940 — whose median net worth is $865,000 — 88 percent insisted that 
they were “fairly or very happy.” Their happiness was of this world, not 
the next: 41 percent reported that they were “not religious at all.” 


The G.I. Lifecycle 

YOUTH: In 1904, muckraker John Spargo’s The Bitter Cry of the Children 
augured the determination of Missionaries in their thirties and forties to do better 
for a new generation, to join forces and seal off the child’s world from urban 
danger and adult vice. In government and family life, Missionaries began building 
what Emmett Holt called “antiseptic” child environments. New vitamin-rich 
diets and anti-hookworm campaigns promoted the cause of child health. A “milk 
station” movement culminated in widespread pasteurization, while Little Moth- 
ers’ Leagues advised parents, “Don’t give the baby beer to drink.” (Indeed, a 
major purpose of Prohibition itself was to push alcohol away from the presence 
of children.) Thanks to the “protective food” movement, capital investment in 
food processing grew faster than that of any other industry between 1914 and 
1929. Businesses that had once exploited children with impunity now found 
themselves facing public outcry and legal punishment. Missionaries were de- 
termined to see their offspring grow up as “clean-cut” as the world being created 
for them. From Pollyanna to Little Orphan Annie , popular literature idealized 
children who were modest, cheerful, and deferential to adults. As the Literary 
Digest demanded “a reassertion of parental authority,” Missionary parents pro- 



270 


GENERATIONS 


claimed the first Mother's Day (in 1908) and Father’s Day (in 1910), and founded 
new scouting organizations to redirect the “gang instinct” to useful purpose. 
Armies of young scouts learned to help others, do things in teams, develop group 
pride, and show respect to adults — in short, to show virtues seldom seen in the 
circa- 1900 Lost street urchins. Public education showed a parallel interest in 
instilling the skills of productive citizenship. Most of the “progressive” Lost- 
era experiments were replaced by a new emphasis on “vocational” education 
(“home economics” for girls, “industrial education” for boys). For the first 
time ever, more teens were in class than out, making school an important so- 
cializing force. Thus arose the golden era of the high school, well captured in 
the teen-movie musicals of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. The ethos: Work 
hard, play by the rules, and everybody gets a reward. 

Upon reaching adolescence, the new youths began building the peer society 
they would retain through life. Adults encouraged kids to police themselves, 
though always under a resolute grip of adult authority that grew tighter with 
each advancing decade. According to historian Daniel Rodgers, parents “injected 
a new, explicit insistence on conformity into child life. ” Starting at a very young 
age, kids learned to be sharers and helpers. (Two-year-old George Bush acquired 
the nickname “Have-Half” because he liked to give half his presents to his 
elder brother.) In an increasingly standardized youth culture, teens watched the 
same movies, listened to the same radio songs, and packed the Rose Bowl and 
other new 100,000-seat stadia to cheer the same sporting events. Having “fine 
friends” and a busy extracurricular life became more important than getting 
higher grades than other students. Fraternities and sororities imposed rigid pres- 
sures on youths to stay within the bounds of the normal, and administered a 
ritual of “rating and dating” (understood lists of “dos and don’ts”) to control 
the libido. Those who were too forward or too shy faced peer disapproval, as 
did those who did not engage in “fair play” (a notion the Lost, at like age, 
would have found bizarre). Youths began taking pride in their ability to achieve 
as a group, to fulfill the 4-H Club motto and “make the best better.” By the 
mid- 1920s, the word “kid” shifted in meaning from a word of elder criticism 
to one of praise. The Lost Joseph Krutch described his juniors as “not rebellious, 
or cynical, or even melancholy. They do what they are told, believe what they 
are told, and hope for the best.” The Lost Malcolm Cowley remarked how the 
“brilliant college graduates” of the 1920s “pictured a future in which everyone 
would be made secure by collective planning and social discipline.” 

COMING OF AGE: “Ours was the best generation,” Gene Shuford said 
of the late 1920s, contrasting his circle with Cowley’s. “Underneath we really 
thought we were all right; that man in general was all right.” Within a few 
years, Shuford’ s “best” found themselves part of what Harper s magazine 
described as the “Locked-Out Generation” of the Great Depression, “all dressed 
up with no place to go.” Even so, the youth spirit stayed high. With its emphasis 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


271 


on planning, optimism, and collective action, Roosevelt’s New Deal perfectly 
suited the mind-set of twenty ish men and women. The National Youth Admin- 
istration and Civilian Conservation Corps kept them busy: marching in formation, 
never complaining, getting things done, building things that worked, things that 
have lasted to this day. When President Roosevelt reshuffled the economic deck 
in favor of the aggressive young over the positioned old, polls showed God 
running behind FDR in popularity among youths. “I promise as a good American 
citizen to do my part for the NR A,” chanted 100,000 young people on Boston 
Common in 1933 (at the urging of James Curley, the city’s Missionary mayor). 
“I will help President Roosevelt bring back good times.” But the sluggish 
economy deferred many a career and marriage, prompting rising student interest 
in an “apple-pie radicalism” more economic than cultural or moral. Even the 
most committed ideologues agreed with their FDR-backing peers that the main 
argument was over what system “worked” best. One young communist bulletin 
defended its members as “no different from other people except that we believe 
in dialectical materialism.” 

Collective action flourished, especially among unionizing young workers in 
assembly-line industries. In the winter and spring of 1936-1937, nearly half a 
million engaged in sit-down strikes, prodded by the new G. I. -dominated Con- 
gress of Industrial Organizations. From Charles Lindbergh’s autobiographical 
We to Mary McCarthy’s The Group, the 1930s became, for budding writers and 
artists, what historian Warren Susman labeled “the decade of participation and 
belonging.” Young novelists like John Steinbeck (in Grapes of Wrath) shunned 
the Lost cynicism and instead looked forward to solving problems, especially 
with the aid of big government. In 1938, 37-year-old Walt Disney released a 
smash box-office hit, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, that featured innocent 
maidenhood and cheerful male teamwork (“whistle while you work”) defeating 
the designs of a brooding witch. Lost critic Westbrook Pegler praised the film 
as “the happiest thing that has happened in this world since the Armistice.” 
But another Lost writer, Sinclair Lewis, suggested in It Cant Happen Here how 
fascism could indeed “happen here” if this new youth mood ever burst from 
its harness. 

Enter World War II. The movie From Here to Eternity portrays prewar soldiers 
evolving into the selfish “lone wolves” despised by most 20-year-olds. Then 
Japan attacks — and, instantly, the soldiers forget their personal feuds and rally 
together into machinelike action. That is indeed what Pearl Harbor did for this 
generation, galvanizing “good kid” ingot into G.I. steel. While G.I. scientists 
in their late thirties designed the atomic bomb, marines in their twenties swarmed 
ashore, soon followed by the bulldozers of the Seabees. (Their motto: “The 
difficult we do at once; the impossible takes a bit longer.”) Like-aged Rosie the 
Riveters comprised the only mostly female industrial workforce in the nation’s 
history. The young generation repeatedly expressed admiration for the elders 
who were leading them to victory. Roosevelt was “the man we had grown up 



272 


GENERATIONS 


under,” said Yank magazine of the Missionary “Commander in Chief, not only 
of the armed forces, but of our generation.” While Mary Martin sang My Heart 
Belongs to Daddy , Bing Crosby marched with his combat buddies to the tune 
of “We'll follow the old man wherever he wants to go.” In the public eye, 
these kids in khaki could do no wrong. The Lost General Patton’s famous slap 
of a younger soldier caused a huge fuss back home largely because of disbelief 
that a G.I. might have had it coming. World War II killed 1.5 percent of G.I. 
men; among the 97 percent who emerged from the war years without serious 
injury, the experience gave men the chance (as Margaret Mead later put it) to 
“experience dangers that would test their mettle . . . among their peers.” Many 
would never again know such responsibility, excitement, or triumph. Emerging 
as world conquerors, they laid claim to a heroism that, later in life, would 
blossom into a sense of entitlement. 

RISING ADULTHOOD: “A good job, a mild future, and a little house big 
enough for me and my wife.” That was the ambition of a homecoming G.I. in 
The Best Years of Our Lives. Not since the Revolution had war veterans enjoyed 
such praise and tangible reward from appreciative elders. Thanks to the “G.I. 
Bill,” two of every five 1950-era dollars of outstanding housing debt were 
covered by taxpayers, many of them older and living in housing worse than 
what young veterans could buy. Capital spending and real wages for young men 
boomed — while payroll deductions to support Social Security retirees remained 
miniscule. Returning war heroes brought a mature, no-nonsense attitude wherever 
they went — to campuses, to workplaces, to politics. Polls showed young adults 
more stem-minded than elders on such topics as the Japanese occupation, the 
use of poison gas, and corporal punishment. Those who entered politics in the 
late 1930s and 1940s felt a scout leader’s sense of duty (like Jimmy Stewart in 
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) to clean up a greasy Lost world and energize 
the nation. By 1950, one G.I. (Dewey) had twice run for President, two others 
(Clark Clifford, George Kennan) had become President Truman’s top advisers, 
and several more (John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford) 
had launched promising political careers. In business, their peers brought their 
wartime confidence and “high hopes” into the nation’s economic life. Everything 
they made seemed to be the best (and biggest) in the world. Stephen Bechtel’s 
company erected Hoover Dam and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, 
Robert Moses built massive public housing projects, and William Levitt laid 
down one gleaming suburban tract after another. Bell & Howell’s dynamic young 
president, Charles Percy, symbolized the new breed of smart, get-things-done 
industrialists, while two brilliant forty ish executives (Bob McNamara, Lee Ia- 
cocca) prodded the American auto industry to produce more functional autos. 
From Fortune writers to the Committee on Economic Development, 40-year- 
olds of both political parties agreed that big government and big business could 
both “pitch in” and work together just fine. 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


273 


In The Organization Man , William Whyte catalogued the suburban G.I. 
“social ethic” that produced neighborhoods noteworthy mainly for their “friend- 
liness.” Like Sloan Wilson’s hero in Man in the Gray Flannel Suit , the ideal 
male was at once hard-striving and selfless, the ideal female the devoted mother 
of a flock of Boom kids. Soon no suburban house was complete without tele- 
vision, a new technology that perfectly expressed the G.I. culture: science tamed 
for man’s benefit, unremittingly upbeat, nurturing children, helping adults keep 
abreast of collegial tastes. A memorable collection of fortyish entertainers — 
Lucille Ball, Phil Silvers, Jack Paar, Jackie Gleason, Art Linkletter — showed 
an unrehearsed, on-air comfort that other TV generations have never quite 
matched. From Hollywood to Levittown, G.I.s were hard at work institution- 
alizing the most wholesome American culture of the twentieth century. “We do 
not engage in loose talk about the ‘ideals’ of the situation and all the other stuff,” 
observed C. Wright Mills in The Power Elite. “We get right down to the 
problem.” Declaring the End to Ideology (a phrase coined by G.I.s in 1955), 
Daniel Bell noted how his peers wanted to overcome real-world challenges, not 
explore differences in fundamental values. George Gallup defined the “average 
man” in a society more eager to celebrate sameness than differences among 
people. The rising black intelligentsia (Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright) lent a 
cool rationalism to race relations; blacks began arguing (and whites agreeing) 
that “segregation” was economically inefficient. Whatever his color, a G.I. 
generally considered the “what to dos” well-settled; only the “how to dos” 
were open to discussion. In 1958, as John Kenneth Galbraith bemoaned “public 
squalor” amid “private opulence,” his generation began its surge to power in 
a Democratic landslide. As the 1960s approached, G.I.s waited impatiently for 
their chance to bring the same friendliness, energy, and competence to public 
life that they had already brought to the economy and family. Their only worry, 
admitted Lipset in 1960, was “the problem of conformity which troubles so 
many Americans today” — a G.I. trait already drawing barbs from the younger 
Silent. 

MIDLIFE: The G.I. rise to national leadership was shaped by the mission 
they recalled from their childhood: to clean up the squalor and decay left behind 
by the Lost. Maxwell Taylor criticized The Uncertain Trumpet of Lost Presi- 
dencies, Eric Sevareid accused the “last generation” of “corruptibility” and a 
“lack of controlled plans,” and John Kennedy complained that “what our young 
men saved, our diplomats and President have frittered away.” When the wa- 
tershed all-G.I. Presidential election of 1960 arrived, a mannish generation in 
its forties and fifties was determined to apply its “common political faith” to 
rebuild American “prestige,” to make the nation (in Bell’s words) “a world 
power, a paramount power, a hegemonic power.” A few surviving Missionaries, 
like Robert Frost at Kennedy’s inaugural, heralded the coming of a new “Au- 
gustan Age.” Having campaigned with the slogan “Let’s Get This Country 



274 


GENERATIONS 


Moving Again,” the new President declared that “the torch has been passed to 
a new generation . . . tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.” 
In office, he brought “vigor” to governance and assembled like-aged advisers 
whom the younger David Halberstam described as “a new breed of thinker- 
doers” — men like Bob McNamara (“the can-do man in the can-do society, in 
the can-do era”) and McGeorge Bundy (possessing “a great and almost relentless 
instinct for power”). Meanwhile, the G.I. literary and media elite joined in as 
team players (Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, Joseph and 
Stewart Alsop, Joseph Kraft, William Manchester, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. , Theo- 
dore White). In 1962, Richard Rovere christened a new expression, “the estab- 
lishment,” to describe the new power of midlife G.I.s. John Kennedy’s 
assassination hardly caused them to break pace. The ebullient Lyndon Johnson 
promptly declared: “This nation, this generation, in this hour has man’s first 
chance to build a Great Society.” In the ensuing 1964 landslide, his G.I. peers 
reached their pinnacle of power. The “Great 89th” Congress (74 percent G.I.) 
became what Theodore White termed “the Grandfather Congress of Programs 
and Entitlements.” G.I. confidence — and hubris — was at an all-time high. 

“Americans today bear themselves like victory-addicted champions,” said 
Look magazine in 1965. “They’ve won their wars and survived their depressions. 
They are accustomed to meeting, and beating, tests.” With America now led 
by a generation intent on meeting and beating new tests, the word “crisis” (what 
Richard Nixon termed “exquisite agony”) repeatedly energized the task of gov- 
ernment. Two years earlier, the Cuban Missile Crisis had climaxed when, in 
Dean Rusk’s words, we were “eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow 
just blinked.” Next came Vietnam. Robert McNamara’s new “controlled re- 
sponse” strategy replaced what had been known as the (Lost-era) “spasm” 
response. But Vietnam helped trigger an angry “generation gap” between G.I. 
parents and coming-of-age Boomers, along with urban riots, a crime wave, 
substance abuse, eroticism, and ideological passion — in short, everything hateful 
to the G.I. life mission. By the late 1960s, whatever G.I.s tried (whether “Model 
Cities” or “guns and butter” economics) began to sputter. From Johnson and 
Nixon in the White House to bosses on the job and fathers in families, G.I. men 
came under constant attack from juniors and, increasingly, women. If the times 
were euphoric for youth, they were anything but for G.I.s: “Everything seemed 
to come unhinged” (James MacGregor Bums); “Something has gone sour, in 
teaching and in learning” (George Wald); “I use the phrase soberly: The nation 
disintegrates” (John Gardner). In words that revealed his peers’ frustration, 
Richard Nixon despaired that America had become “a pitiful, helpless giant.” 
Many (Rusk, William Westmoreland, Walt Rostow) refused to admit error. 
Others (McNamara, Bundy) came to share Milton Mayer’s view that “we were 
wrong, and the new generation is right” — although, Mayer added, “the young 
terrify me.” 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


275 


ELDERHOOD: Ask today’s seniors what movie touched them most as 
youths, and many will answer Lost Horizon, a depression-era film with a dis- 
turbing message about aging: that it is hideous and ugly, something that shouldn’t 
happen in a civic-minded community. In a 1946 poll, G.I.s showed the highest 
generational support for human euthanasia. Through the 1950s, G.I.s often 
looked upon the old Lost as tired, defeatist, and anti-progress. They vowed not 
to grow old the same way. Later on, when they entered elderhood themselves, 
they attacked what they termed the “myths” of a lonely, Lost-like old age — 
and worked hard to be ever-optimistic, ever-energetic “senior citizens.” Today, 
G.I.s rankle at younger people who assume they are unhappy; indeed, a majority 
insist that their present phase of life is the best. Where Missionaries are remem- 
bered for dressing dark (as though in church), G.I.s make a point of dressing 
bright (as though at play). As they listen to old “swing” music on “Music of 
Your Life” radio, they dwell in what they freely admit is a “square,” even 
“corny” culture — a culture that admits neither to loneliness nor to suffering. 
Modern Maturity magazine will not accept ads that mention “pain, inflammation, 
suffer, hurt, ache, and flare-up” because, says a publishing director, “it’s pretty 
hard to present” these things “in an upbeat way.” 

Under prodding from younger generations, G.I.s have separated into an elder 
version of the same peer society they first built in their youth. After leaving the 
labor force at a younger age than any earlier generation, they entered an active 
and publicly subsidized retirement. Part of the implicit terms under which the 
G. I. -Boom generation gap eased in the early 1970s was through an understanding 
by which the post-Vietnam fiscal “peace dividend” was spent almost entirely 
on G.I. retirees. In 1972, the first election in which gray-lobby activism became 
critical, candidates Wilbur Mills and Richard Nixon abandoned their prior op- 
position to COLA inflation indexing. Congress added an extra 20 percent benefit 
hike, producing a two-year jump in intergenerational transfer payments that 
dwarfed the total size of Great Society poverty programs. Over the last two 
decades, while G.I.s have noted the Boomers’ weaker commitment to the spirit 
of community, these seniors have themselves surrendered to much of the self- 
orientation they see around them. Only a few (like Maggie Kuhn’s Gray Panthers) 
have adopted the confrontational “me first” Boomer tone. Instead, the “we 
first” senior citizen movement has applied the same patience, organizational 
know-how, and teamwork that G.I.s have always carried through life — though 
now with a new agenda and with bottom-line results that few other generations 
could ever hope for. “You’ve already paid most of your dues. Now start col- 
lecting the benefits,” reads a 1988 AARP membership appeal. So they have: 
Half of all federal spending is now consumed by pensions, other elderly enti- 
tlements, and interest on the national debt — the last representing the burden of 
today’s unfunded consumption on tomorrow’s taxpayers. During the 1980s, 
retiree benefits remained the one area of government which no G.I. President 



276 


GENERATIONS 


or Silent Congress dared to touch. Likewise, deficit spending has become the 
one fiscal device which finds few visceral critics among the generation that came 
of age during the New Deal. Where Lost elders once preferred to attack public 
spending and leave taxes alone, G.I. elders lean the other way and have provided 
the core of the modem tax revolt, from Ronald Reagan and Howard Jarvis (of 
California’s Proposition 13) to the rank-and-file memberships of national antitax 
lobbies. 

Their rising affluence has enabled them to separate socially into America’s 
first “seniors only’’ communities, often far away from their grown-up children. 
There G.I.s show a vigor and cheerfulness that bring to mind the best of their 
1950s-era culture. In Sun City, observes Boomer gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, 
“it’s hard to find time to talk to people; they’re too active and busy.” “Sun 
City is secure,” he concludes. “A resident may stroll the streets without fear 
of surprise, of unpleasantness, or unsightliness. The streets are uncommonly 
clean.” And, adds one resident, “I don’t know where I could go that I could 
get so involved with the community.” Similarly, the G.I.s’ material well-being 
has enabled them to continue in their accustomed roles as trustees of wealth, 
givers of gifts, accepters of collect phone calls — and providers (or backstops) 
for their extended families. No elder generation has ever been so relied upon to 
foot the bill for family indulgences. In 1987 and 1988, grandparents accounted 
for 25 percent of all toy purchases — and a rapidly growing share of their grand- 
children's educational expenses. Nor has any elder generation made more down 
payments to enable its grown children to buy houses which, back in the 1950s, 
G.I.s could easily afford without parental help. (For today’s young adults, reports 
Time magazine, the “G.I. benefit” has now come to mean “Good In-laws.”) 
Among elder G.I.s whose children have divorced, 30 percent report that the 
newly single son or daughter soon arrives on their doorstep. But if Silent and 
Boom children frequently ask for G.I. assistance with economic problems, they 
do not seek elder help nearly so often on questions of values or basic life direction. 

The G.I. role as powerful stewards of American material life has left them 
feeling more friendly than wise — more comfortable keeping active themselves 
than inspiring the young to action. “In our time as children, grandparents were 
the teachers, advisors, counselors,” Eda LeShan remembers of a social function 
from which her own peers “have been robbed completely.” As anthropologist 
Dorian Apple has found in cultures throughout the world, “indulgent grand- 
parents are associated with societies ... where grandparents are dissociated with 
authority.” Erik Erikson’s wife and collaborator, Joan, recently observed how 
“when we looked at the lifecycle in our forties, we looked to old people for 
wisdom.” Now, she laments, “lots of old people don’t get wise.” Whatever 
wisdom G.I.s do have to offer, they lack the pulpit to proclaim it, owing to their 
early retirement and the recent Boom takeover of positions in the media. A 1989 
survey found not a single prominent journalist over age 65 at work in an American 
newsroom. 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


277 


In public life, the last prominent G.I.s assert power more than principle — 
“better with deeds than with plans or words,” to use (the Silent) Senator Lau- 
tenberg’s description of George Bush, then busy ordering ships and planes and 
tanks to the Persian Gulf. In family life, their worldly style of grandparenting 
leaves them troubled by what Dychtwald describes as a “lack of respect and 
appreciation.” From the Oval Office to the family dinner table, elder G.I.s often 
feel they don’t get enough personal deference from young people — certainly not 
what they remember offering their own elder Missionary parents. 

* * * 

“We’ve done the work of democracy, day by day,” George Bush proudly 
declared of his generation in 1989. Whatever G.I.s touched, they made bigger — 
and, in their eyes, better. Their accomplishments have been colossal. G.I.s 
patiently endured an economic despair that might have driven another generation 
to revolution. They ably soldiered the one war America could not afford to lose. 
Thanks to their powerful work ethic and willingness to invest, they produced a 
postwar economic miracle that ultimately outperformed their communist rivals. 
Their massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons preserved an enduring if expensive 
and unnerving peace. They have been a truly great generation of scientists, 
landing men on the moon and cracking the riddles of human longevity. Their 
women may have been the most dedicated teachers and most skillful mothers in 
American history. In countless ways, from transistors and satellites to spacious 
family homes and a buoyant “GNP” (a term they invented), G.I.s gave insti- 
tutional firmament to the “Brotherhood of Man” envisioned by their beloved 
Missionary fathers. In recent years, news of the retirement or death of G.I. 
notables has often prompted remarks from Americans of all ages that no one 
will be able to replace their competence. 

Yet their final ledger will also include colossal debits: unprecedented public 
and private liabilities, exported assets, depleted resources, harms to the global 
environment. The generation that inherited so much excess economic capacity 
and harnessed it to so many public purposes is bequeathing to its successors a 
fiscally starved economy unable to afford a new national agenda. The offspring 
of the soldiers the G.I.s conquered — Japanese and German — are today outcom- 
peting their own children and eclipsing American economic might. The powerful 
G.I. sense of exceptionalism makes them think their constructions can last for- 
ever, that Reaganomics-style optimism can produce its own reward. But those 
early-in-life virtues — selflessness, investment, and community — have given way 
to the repetition of old habits without the old purposes and without the old focus 
on the future. To G.I.s, Tomorrowland once meant monorails and moonwalks; 
now it means space-age medicine in the intensive-care unit. With their time 
coming to a close, G.I.s have difficulty articulating what Bush calls “the vision 
thing” — setting directions for a new century many will not live to see. From 
George Kennan to Lillian Heilman, Eric Sevareid to Theodore White, Ann 
Landers to Ronald Reagan, elder G.I.s voice distress over the steady loss in the 



278 


GENERATIONS 


American sense of community in the hands of the young. Back when they ran 
the “general issue” culture, everything in America seemed to fit together con- 
structively. Now, to their eyes, it doesn’t. And they worry about how they will 
be remembered. 

In It's a Wonderful Life , a Lost-directed testimonial to G.I.s, Jimmy Stewart 
despairs at the worthlessness of his deeds until an older man shows him 
how, had he never lived, his town would have sunk to “ Potters ville” — a cor- 
rupt, pleasure-seeking, Lost-style abyss. Returning home, Stewart saves his 
government-subsidized savings and loan business thanks to gifts from young and 
old, repaying him for all the wonderful things he has done over his life. Contrast 
this with the G.I. image in the Boom-directed Cocoon: senior citizens draining 
the strength of unborn aliens, and then flying off to immortality while leaving 
their own children behind. Yet Cocoon presents G.I.s in such a warm light that 
this ghastly behavior seems perfectly natural, as though such friendly people 
deserve special treatment no matter what it costs the young. No one likes to 
think of today’s senior citizens as selfish, least of all themselves. They would 
rather just stand firm in the “collective positiveness” suggested by Hubert Pryor 
of Modern Maturity in his 1989 essay “Goodbye to Our Century.” 

On May 5, 1990, Bob Gilbert and other seventyish veterans rode a motorcade 
down the streets of Plzen past thousands of Czechs waving American flags under 
a huge banner reading thank you boys. As Gilbert’s peers leave us one by 
one, many G.I.s probably wish they didn’t have to go that way, but would prefer 
to go together in some heroic D-Day redux — one last civic ritual to remind 
everyone what they once did, as a team, for posterity. 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


279 


SILENT GENERATION 

Bom: 1925-1942 
Type: Adaptive 

Age Location: 

Great Depression-World War II Crisis in youth 
Boom Awakening in midlife 

“Forty-nine is taking no chances,” Fortune magazine’s editors wrote of the 
“gray flannel mentality” of that year’s class of college graduates, the first to 
consist mainly of Americans bom after 1924. “They are interested in the system 
rather than individual enterprise.” Only 2 percent wished to be self-employed. 
Most of the rest wanted to work in big corporations offering job security. “Never 
had American youth been so withdrawn, cautious, unimaginative, indifferent, 
unadventurous — and silent,” G.I. historian William Manchester later quipped. 
The SILENT GENERATION was a name these young people didn’t especially 
like, but they knew it fit. “We had no leaders, no program, no sense of our 
own power, and no culture exclusively our own,” admitted Frank Conroy. “Our 
clothing, manners and lifestyle were unoriginal — scaled-down versions of what 
we saw in the adults. ” Like Robert Morse in How to Succeed in Business Without 
Really Trying, these young grads put on their “sincere” ties, looked in the 
mirror — and didn't see G.I. s. Instead, they saw the date-and-mate romantics of 
Peggy Sue Got Married, sober young adults chided by one older professor as 
“a generation with strongly middle-aged values.” G.I.s David Riesman and 
Nathan Glazer labeled them the “Lonely Crowd,” possessing an “outer- 
directed” personality and taking cues from others. 

Older generations first knew them as Shirley Temple and Jerry Lewis, Roy 
Cohn and Charles Van Doren, Ralph Nader and Bobby Kennedy — and younger 
generations met them as Elvis Presley and Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Gloria 
Steinem, Abbie Hoffman and the Chicago Seven. In the decades since, they 
have aged into America’s late-twentieth-century facilitators and technocrats, the 
Walter Mondales and Geraldine Ferraros — a consummate helpmate generation 
which has so far produced three decades of top Presidential aides — Pierre Sal- 
inger (for Kennedy), Bill Moyers (Johnson), John Ehrlichman (Nixon), Dick 
Cheney (Ford), Stuart Eizenstat (Carter), James Baker III (Reagan), and John 
Sununu (Bush). And three First Ladies (Jackie Kennedy, Rosalynn Carter, and 
Barbara Bush). But no Presidents. 

Jeane Kirkpatrick describes hers as a generation “bom twenty years too 



SILENT GENERATION (Born 1925 to 1942) 


TYPE: Adaptive 

Total number: 49,000,000 
Now alive in U.S.: 40,000,000 
Percent immigrant: 9% 


FAMILY TREE 

Typical grandparents: Missionary 
Parents: Lost and G.I. 

Children: Boom and Thirteenth 
Typical grandchildren: Millennial 


SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) PERIOD of POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 


1925 William F. Buckley, Jr. 

1925 Gore Vidal 

1926 Marilyn Monroe (1962) 

1927 Andy Warhol (1987) 

1928 T. Boone Pickens, Jr. 

1929 Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968) 

1930 James A. Baker III 
1930 Sandra Day O’Connor 

1930 Clint Eastwood 

1931 James Dean (1955) 

1932 Andrew Young 
1935 Elvis Presley (1977) 

1935 Geraldine Ferraro 
1935 Woody Allen 

1935 Phil Donahue 

1936 Abbie Hoffman (1989) 

1937 Jack Nicholson 
1940 Ted Koppel* 

1940 Pat Schroeder 
1942 Barbra Streisand 
* = immigrant 


Plurality in House: 1975- 
Plurality in Senate: 1979- 
Majority of Supreme Court: — 

U S. PRESIDENTS: None 

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES 

1928 Walter Mondale 
1933 Michael Dukakis 

1935 Jack Kemp 

1936 Gary Hart 
1941 Jesse Jackson 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1926 Fidel Castro 

1930 Helmut Kohl 

1931 Mikhail Gorbachev 
1936 Vaclav Havel 
1940 John Lennon (1980) 


Age 

Date 

0-13 

1938 

3-20 

1945 

8-25 

1950 

12-29 

1954 

15-32 

1957 

19-36 

1961 

21-38 

1963 

26-43 

1968 

27-44 

1969 

32-49 

1974 

37-54 

1979 

46-63 

1988 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

Snow White sets box-office records as Great Depression lingers 
VE-Day, VJ-Day; atomic bombs dropped; older veterans return 
Korean War (1950-1953) starts; anti-Communist fear surges 
McCarthyism prompts student anxiety over “permanent records’’ 
Sputnik in orbit; rock and roll popular; “beat’’ movement peaks 
John Kennedy inaugurated, founds Peace Corps 
John Kennedy assassinated; The Feminine Mystique published 
Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy assassinated 
Armstrong lands on moon; Chappaquiddick; divorce epidemic begins 
Watergate scandal; “Watergate babies’’ elected to Congress 
Peak of Carter “malaise’’; energy crisis; hostages taken in Iran 
“Seven Dwarf” candidates; Michael Dukakis loses to George Bush 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: The Other America (Michael Harrington); 

Portnoy' s Complaint (Philip Roth); One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey); Unsafe at 
Any Speed (Ralph Nader); Cosmos (TV series, Carl Sagan); Heartburn (Nora Ephron); Ms. 
magazine (Gloria Steinem); Playboy magazine (Hugh Hefner); Future Shock (Alvin Toffler); 
Megatrends (John Naisbitt); Fatherhood (Bill Cosby); Sesame Street (educational TV, Joan 
Ganz Cooney) 




THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


281 


soon.” Or twenty years too late. Admiral William Crowe calls his peers a 
“transitional generation,” Rose Franzblau a “Middle Generation,” the one she 
says is forever “betwixt and between.” The Silent boundaries are fixed less by 
what they did than by what those older and younger did — and what the Silent 
themselves just missed. The first wave came of age just too late for war-era 
heroism, but in time to encounter a powerful national consensus — against which 
young rebels, like James Dean, found themselves “without a cause.” The last 
wave graduated from college just ahead of what Benita Eisler termed the “great 
divide” before the fiery Boomer Class of 1965. Unlike the first Boomers, the 
last of the Silent can remember World War II from their childhood, and many 
of them look upon the Peace Corps as a generational bond in a way Boomers 
never have. Sixteen percent of Harvard’s Class of ’64 joined the Peace Corps, 
Harvard’s top postgraduate destination for that year — whereas the next year’s 
graduates began criticizing the Peace Corps amid the early stirrings of the Boom’s 
antiestablishment rebellion. 

The Silent widely realize they are the generational stuffings of a sandwich 
between the get-it-done G.I. and the self-absorbed Boom. Well into their rising 
adulthood, they looked to G.I. s for role models — and pursued what then looked 
to be a lifetime mission of refining and humanizing the G.I. -built world. Come 
the mid-1960s, the Silent found themselves “grown up just as the world’s gone 
teen-age” (as Howard Junker put it at the time) and fell under the trance of their 
free-spirited next-juniors, the Boomers. As songwriters, graduate students, and 
young attorneys, they mentored the Boom Awakening, founding several of the 
organizations of political dissent their next-juniors would radicalize. “During 
the ferment of the 1960s, a period of the famous ‘generation gap,’ we occupied, 
unnoticed as usual, the gap itself,” Wade Greene later recounted. “When nobody 
over thirty was to be trusted, our age was thirty-something.” During the 1970s, 
the sexual revolution hit the Silent when most of them were passing forty, decades 
after their natural adolescence. Such awkward timing caused immense problems 
in their family lives and transformed them, said Franzblau in 1971, into “a 
generation of jealousies and role reversals.” Through the 1970s, the Silent 
completed the shift from an elder-focused rising adulthood to a youth-focused 
midlife — feeling, as in the Dylan lyric, “Ah, but I was so much older then/ I’m 
younger than that now.” As women turned to feminism, men assembled a mix- 
and-match masculinity out of fragments from G.I. and Boom. 

The Silent lifecycle has been an outer blessing but inner curse. In Birth and 
Fortune , demographer Richard Easterlin labeled his own peer group “the for- 
tunate ones” whose relatively small size (per cohort) has supposedly given them 
an edge on life. Yes, the Silent have enjoyed a lifetime of steadily rising affluence, 
have suffered relatively few war casualties, and have shown the twentieth cen- 
tury’s lowest rates for almost every social pathology of youth (crime, suicide, 
illegitimate births, and teen unemployment). Apart from a significant number 
of divorced women who never remarried, the Silent lifecycle has been an escalator 



282 


GENERATIONS 


of prosperity, offering the maximum reward for the minimum initiative. No other 
living generation could half-believe in what Ellen Goodman terms “the Woody 
Allen school of philosophy: 80 percent of life is showing up.” But the outward 
good fortune of their lifecycle has denied them a clear personal connection to 
the banner headlines that they see, at times enviously, so well connected to 
others. However much they try, the Silent have never succeeded in experiencing 
the snap of catharsis felt by G.I.s or Boomers. Where the G.I.s did great things 
and felt one with history, where Boomers found ravishment within themselves, 
the Silent have taken great things for granted and looked beyond themselves — 
while worrying that, somehow, the larger challenges of life are passing them 
by. And so they have been keen on manufacturing points of lifecycle reference 
around personal (rather than historical) markers. Whatever phase of life they 
occupy is fraught with what various Silent authors have labeled “passages,” 
“seasons,” “turning points,” or other transitions bearing little or no relation to 
the larger flow of public events. 

Well aware of their own deficiencies, the Silent have spent a lifetime plumbing 
inner wellsprings older G.I.s seldom felt while maintaining a sense of social 
obligation Boomers haven’t shared. Their solutions — fairness, openness, due 
process, expertise — reflect a lack of surefootedness, but also a keen sense of 
how and why humans fall short of grand civic plans or ideal moral standards. 
Silent appeals for change have seldom arisen from power or fury, but rather 
through a self-conscious humanity and tender social conscience (“Deep in my 
heart, I do believe / We shall overcome someday”). Lacking an independent 
voice, they have adopted the moral relativism of the skilled arbitrator, mediating 
arguments between others — and reaching out to people of all cultures, races, 
ages, and handicaps. “We don’t arrive with ready-made answers so much as a 
honed capacity to ask and to listen,” says Greene, touting his generation’s ability 
“to continue to bridge gaps, at a time of immense, extraordinarily complicated 
and potentially divisive changes.” The tensions the Silent have felt in adapting 
to a G.I.-and-Boom-dominated society while preserving their own sensitivity 
have helped them appreciate the crazy twists of life — and become America’s 
greatest generation of comedians, psychiatrists, and songwriters. Yet this very 
malleability has left the Silent with badly checkered family lives. “If anything 
has changed in the last generation,” admits Ellen Goodman, “it is the erosion 
of confidence” among parents “openly uncertain about how we are doing.” 

In Private Lives , Benita Eisler labels hers the generation with “a corpse in 
the trunk” — and the biggest of those corpses is the R-rated decade of the 1970s. 
That era in which so much seemed to go wrong in America coincided precisely 
with the Silent surge to influence over national life. In Future Shock , the book 
that keynoted that decade, Alvin Toffler foresaw a forthcoming “historic crisis 
of adaptation” — and called for “the moderation and regulation of change” with 
“exact scientific knowledge, expertly applied to the crucial, most sensitive points 
of social control.” But as Toffler’s peers began applying this cult of expertise, 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


283 


they encountered their turbulent passage to midlife — and what Toffler labeled 
the “transience index” began exploding upward. As the Silent broke and remade 
relationships, families splintered, substance abuse moved past euphoria to social 
damage, and American society lost its G.I.-era sense of cohesion. As a generation 
of Daniel Ellsbergs pushed to get secrets out (and take clothes off), their Phil 
Donahues and Ted Koppels aimed microphones everywhere, hoping more dia- 
logue would somehow build a better society. Meanwhile, productivity stagnated, 
the economy sputtered, and the nation endured a series of global humiliations. 
In Zero-Sum Society, Lester Thurow suggested that, increasingly, improvement 
in the condition of any one group came at the expense of another. What Jerry 
Brown called “the age of limits” became (in William Schneider’s words) “the 
Zeitgeist theme of his generation.” By the time the 1970s ended, an elder G.I. 
won the Presidency in part by ridiculing this midlife mind-set. 

Even with Reagan at the helm, the America of the 1980s did in many ways 
become a Silent-style Tofflerian “ad hocracy” stressing expertise over simplic- 
ity, participation over authority, process over result. Corporations began directing 
more attention to organization and financing than to the products they made. 
Public over- and under-regulation became hot political issues, prompting Time 
magazine to play off memories of G.I. muscle by making “The Can’t Do 
Government” the subject of a 1989 cover story. Where the word “liberal” had 
once referred to a G.I. -style energizer with a constructive national agenda, its 
meaning transformed into a Silent-style enervator attuned to multitudinous special 
interests. (“Beware of liberals who came of age politically in the 1950s,” warns 
George Will.) Likewise, the definition of “conservative” evolved from a Lost- 
style cautious stewardship to the faintly hip, high-rolling optimism of the Silent’s 
new supply-side school — which calls upon the nation to undergo the economic 
equivalent of a liberating midlife passage, full of zest and swagger and dare. As 
Mike Dukakis and Jack Kemp define these two new Silent credos in politics, 
Alan Alda and Clint Eastwood (the latter dubbed by one reviewer the “supply- 
side star”) define them in popular culture. Neoliberal to Neoconservative, racial 
quotas to Laffer curves, this generation lacks a cohesive core — and fears it may 
be presiding over (in William Raspberry’s words) “the unraveling of America.” 

In 1949, Fortune closed its report on the new crop of college graduates by 
asking whether they will be “so tractable and harmonious as to be incapable, 
twenty or thirty years hence, of making provocative decisions?” Today, forty 
years have passed, and many have since rephrased that question in the present 
tense. The nation still looks to what Greene terms “fifty somethings” to comment 
and mediate, but not to lead. Americans of all ages, Silent included, have 
repeatedly turned back to G.I. s for a steady hand, and forward to Boomers for 
new values. And so the Silent have arrived on the brink of elderhood — still 
feeling “out of it,” observes Benita Eisler, “sitting ducks for having our bluff 
called.” Although they continue to wait for a turn at the top, they notice how 
younger leaders have appropriated their call to “conscience” and older leaders 



284 


GENERATIONS 


their “kinder and gentler” rhetoric. Having given so much to others, the Silent 
are beginning to wonder whether their own generation may yet have something 
new to offer. Or whether instead their greatest contributions have already been 
made. 


Silent Facts 

• Bom mostly during an era of depression and war, the Silent were the product 

of a birthrate trough. They later became the only American generation to 
have fewer members per cohort than both the generations bom just before 
it (G.I.) and just after it (Boom). During the 1930s, the U.S. population 
grew by only 7 percent, the lowest decennial growth rate in American 
history. 

• In economic terms, the Silent lifecycle has been a straight line from a cashless 

childhood to the cusp of affluent elderhood — the smoothest and fastest- 
rising path of any generation for which income data are available. In the 
immediate postwar years, barely 1 percent of youths between 10 and 15 
were in the labor force — the lowest child labor force participation rate of 
the twentieth century. From age 20 to 40, Silent households showed this 
century’s steepest rise in real per capita income and per-household wealth. 

• The Silent were the earliest-marrying and earliest-babying generation in Amer- 

ican history. Men married at an average age of 23, women at 20. The 1931- 
1935 female cohorts were the most fertile of the twentieth century ; 94 percent 
of them became mothers, who bore an average of 3.3 children (versus 81 
percent of G.I. s bom a quarter century earlier, who bore an average of 2.3 
children). This was the only American generation whose college-educated 
women were more fertile than those who did not complete secondary school. 

• While Silent men outpaced G.I.s in educational achievement, Silent women 

showed no gain. Through the 1950s, new women entrants virtually dis- 
appeared from fields like engineering and architecture, where G.I. women 
had made important war-era advances at like age. Two decades later, Silent 
women accounted for nearly all the nation’s prominent feminists. 

• The late-twentieth-century “sexual revolution” and “divorce epidemic” have 

affected the Silent more than any other generation. From the 1950s to the 
1970s, they reported a larger age-bracket increase in their frequency of 
sexual intercourse than any other generation. Similarly, Silent men and 
women bom between the mid- 1930s and early 1940s showed the biggest 
age-bracket jump in the divorce rate. From 1969 through 1975, as the Silent 
surged into state legislatures, the number of states with “no fault” divorce 
laws jumped from zero to forty-five. 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


285 


• Silent professionals account for the 1960s surge in the “helping professions” 

(teaching, medicine, ministry, government) and the 1970s explosion in 
“public interest” advocacy groups. From 1969 to 1979, the number of 
public interest law centers in America grew from 23 to 111; during the 
1980s, only nine new centers were established. The era of Silent-dominated 
juries (1972 through 1989) roughly coincided with the rise of huge damage 
awards in personal injury cases. 

• The Silent Generation has produced virtually every major figure in the modem 

civil rights movement — from the Little Rock children to the youths at the 
Greensboro lunch counter, from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Malcolm X, 
from Cesar Chavez’s farmworkers’ union to Russell Means’ American In- 
dian Movement. By 1989, nineteen black Silent had been elected to Con- 
gress, five more than among the three prior generations (Missionary, Lost, 
G.I.) put together. Nine Silent Hispanics have so far become congressmen, 
more than the combined number of all prior American generations. 

• In politics and business, the Silent have been a proven generation of bureau- 

cratizers. Compared with the G.I. -dominated Congresses of the early 1960s, 
Silent Congresses in the mid-1980s convened twice as many hearings, 
debated for twice as many hours, hired four times as many staff, mailed 
six times as many letters to constituents — and enacted one-third as many 
laws. Eighty-four committees had oversight responsibility for HUD in the 
years just prior to its scandal. 

• Opinion rules in Silent-led America. In the 1990 election, voters confronted 

the largest number of citizen-initiated ballot measures since the Progressive- 
Era election of 1914. (The California ballot alone had 28 initiatives, ac- 
companied by a two- volume, 230-page voter’s guide.) But if opinion rules, 
the Silent hate to admit that any rule is final. From judicial appeals to NFL 
instant replays, the 1980s marked an all-time high in institutionalized 
second-guessing. 

• The Silent are virtually guaranteed of reaching 1993 — sixty-eight years after 

their first birthyear — without producing a President. That’s twelve years 
later than the average and seven years later than any other generation from 
the Republicans on. This “I Go Pogo” generation has shown a lifelong 
bipartisan attraction to Presidential underdogs. It gave Adlai Stevenson his 
strongest generational percentage and supported the losing candidate in 
every close modem election: Nixon over Kennedy, Humphrey over Nixon, 
Ford over Carter. 

• The Silent are the only living generation whose members would rather be in 

some age bracket other than the one they now occupy. A 1985 study found 
the fiftyish Silent preferring “the twenties” over any other decade of life — 



286 


GENERATIONS 


an age many feel they never really enjoyed the first time around. From the 
early 1970s on, Silent entering midlife have fueled a booming market in 
dietary aids, exercise classes, cosmetic surgery, hair replacements, relax- 
ation therapies, and psychiatric treatments. 


The Silent Lifecycle 

YOUTH: “Overprotective was a word first used to describe our parents,” 
Benita Eisler recalls of her depression-era youth. The first American generation 
to be bom mainly in hospitals, Eisler’ s peers grew up hearing stem warnings 
not to “do that” or “eat this” or “go there” from midlife Lost adults who 
regulated the child’s world with the heaviest hand of the twentieth century. While 
a child’s fatal pony fall in Gone With the Wind reminded parents to keep a close 
watch over their charges, Norman Rockwell depicted the enduring image of 
Roosevelt’s fourth freedom, “Freedom from Fear,” by showing a sleeping child 
lovingly guarded by mother and father. The leading parenting books suggested 
“total situation” child care and other no-nonsense approaches, including Herman 
Bundesen’s strict feeding regimen and John B. Watson’s behavioral rules that 
critics likened to the housebreaking of puppies. Kids read stories about “Tootle” 
(a little train that always stayed on the track) and Paddle to the Sea (a little boat 
that reached its destination by floating safely with the current). At the movies, 
they watched Spanky, Alfalfa, and the “Little Rascals” scrupulously mind their 
manners whenever they encountered elders. As threats against the national com- 
munity deepened, children were bluntly told that older generations were making 
enormous sacrifices so they could grow up enjoying peace and prosperity. Family 
survival took first priority and gave many kids a home life of limited cultural 
experience, plus the fear that any day could bring devastating news — a layoff, 
a foreclosed home, the combat death of a father. “As a young child,” Frank 
Conroy remembers asking “what was in the newspapers when there wasn’t a 
war going on.” 

In the years after VJ-Day, the Silent “became teenagers when to be a teenager 
was nothing, the lowest of the low,” as Conroy put it. “Most of us kept quiet, 
attempting not to call attention to ourselves.” Watching from the sidelines, they 
saw the nation celebrate thirtyish war heroes and an indulged new generation of 
postwar babies — and reaffirm a social order at once comfortable and imperme- 
able. America offered young people peace and jobs, but put them in a social 
and cultural no-man ’s-land. Their worst school discipline problems ranged from 
gum chewing to cutting in line. In 1942, adolescent graffiti in New York City 
was just about the tamest on record (“Nuts to all the boys on Second Avenue — 
except between 68th and 69th Streets!”). The pressure to conform came more 
from adults than from peers. Emulating older G.I.s, most teens became strictly 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


287 


monogamous “steadies” — who then exchanged pins, got engaged, scheduled 
“June bride” postgraduation weddings, and “tied the knot.” (“It’s too late 
now, there’s no turnin’ back, /You fell in love, you’re part of The Tender Trap”) 
In an age when “getting in trouble” meant dropping out of high school to get 
married, Silent “juvenile delinquents” were less kids who did something bad 
than kids who did nothing , refusing to accept the confident promise of the postwar 
era. Like Dion DiMucci’s “Why must I be A Teenager in Love” popular teen 
songs bespoke a self-pity, a yearning for “someone to tell my troubles to,” a 
fear of “heartbreak.” Amid this sentimentality, kids built human relations 
skills — and felt useful enough to expect a nice personal harvest from the world 
their elders had created. 

COMING OF AGE: “I hated the war ending,” Russell Baker later admitted, 
acknowledging that the A-bomb may have saved his skin. “I wanted desperately 
to become a death-dealing hero. I wanted the war to go on and on.” While a 
number of first- wave Silent served in World War II, few saw any action before 
VJ-Day sent them home as might-have-beens rather than as heroes. Just as 
Herbert T. Gillis lorded it over young Dobie (and Maynard G. Krebs, who ran 
when he heard the word “work”), G.I.s and Silent knew who had fought “the 
big one” and who hadn’t. After Hiroshima, they also knew who had built “the 
big one” and who hadn’t. Several years later, the Silent had their own war to 
fight in Korea, but their most memorable troop movements were retreats rather 
than advances. Where George Bush’s peers had conquered large portions of 
Europe, Africa, and the Pacific, Mike Dukakis’ fought to a tie on one small 
peninsula. Through the late 1940s, meanwhile, young college freshmen found 
G.I. veterans everywhere, running the clubs, getting more financial aid (and, 
by most accounts, better grades), and the pick among marriageable women. The 
first Silent TV stars were goofballs (Jerry Lewis) or daffy sweethearts (Debbie 
Reynolds) cast alongside confident G.I. “straight men.” As young women 
watched Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Bouvier abandon their careers for life with 
an older prince, their male peers watched the reputations and careers of prewar 
G.I. leftists getting chewed to pieces by Nixon and McCarthy. Youths of both 
sexes avoided the unorthodox and safeguarded their “permanent records” by 
applying the motto “Don’t say, don’t write, don’t join.” 

Postwar Silent youths came of age feeling an inner-world tension amid the 
outer- world calm — not growing up angry (explained the older Paul Goodman), 
just Growing up Absurd. Older generations didn’t expect them to achieve any- 
thing great, just to calibrate, to become expert at what G.I. economist Walter 
Heller called “fine tuning” of the hydraulic G.I. wealth machine. Young adults 
in the 1950s, recalls Manchester, were “content to tinker with techniques and 
technicalities” and believed that “progress lay in something called problem- 
solving meetings.” The aspiring youth elite compensated for their lack of ag- 



288 


GENERATIONS 


gressiveness with a budding intellectualism. In 1951, William Buckley’s God 
and Man at Yale sounded the first erudite challenge against G.I. secularism. In 
1955, the “Beat Generation” drew first notice, wrote Bruce Cook, at “that 
famous reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco when Allen Ginsberg first 
proclaimed ‘Howl’ to an astonished, wine-bibbing multitude.” As self-pro- 
claimed “nonconformists” led a “bohemian” coffeehouse cult, goateed 20- 
year-olds sampled foreign cuisines, listened to “offbeat” music, read “hip” 
poetry, told “sick” jokes, and lampooned the G.I. “Squaresville.” In 1958, 
the G.I. Herb Caen tagged them “beatniks.” If the Silent couldn’t match Caen’s 
peers in power and virility, then they’d be William Gaines’ Alfred E. Neuman. 
“What, me worry?” You bet they worried — and came of age, like Elvis, All 
Shook Up (“Well, bless my soul, what’s wrong with me,/ I’m itchin’ like a 
man on a fuzzy tree”). As they danced to their new rock and roll, Silent youths 
put up false fronts and used early marriage as a fortress against adult doubts 
about their maturity. Making babies quickly and frequently, millions of young 
householders merged unnoticeably into suburban G.I. culture. 

RISING ADULTHOOD: In Passages, Gail Sheehy refers to the 20-to-30 
age bracket as the Silent lifecycle’s “transient decade” — a time when her peers 
felt a need to build the firm, safe “merger self” while exploring a more ad- 
venturesome “seeker self.” Thirtyish adults sensed that although G.I.s had the 
power, they brought compassion and refinement to an age short on both. Starting 
with the Soviets’ 1957 Sputnik space shot, they started questioning American 
exceptionalism. “Hip” ways of thinking moved beyond coffeehouses into the 
suburbs with a new style John Updike called “half Door Store, half Design 
Research.” Rising theologians challenged the Catholic orthodoxy in Daniel Cal- 
lahan’s “Generation of the Third Eye” (which “looks constantly into itself,” 
and from which “nothing, or almost nothing, is safe from scrutiny”). As Updike 
and Philip Roth wrote risque novels with self-doubting heroes, Tom Lehrer and 
Stan Freberg brought sophistication to satire, and Andy Warhol found “art” in 
the G.I. soup-can culture. New musical strains slyly shocked elders (Ray Charles’ 
What’ d l Say?) while reflecting an appetite for “crossover” pluralism. 

This other-directedness gradually asserted itself in the modem civil rights 
movement. Led by the young Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Silent “agi- 
tators” adhered to a rule of nonviolence and appealed to the G.I.s’ sense of 
fairness. In 1962, when Tom Hayden, Carl Oglesby, and other Silent founded 
the Students for a Democratic Society — a vehicle for campus dissent yet to be 
radicalized by Boomers — they affirmed that “in social change, or interchange, 
we find violence to be abhorrent.” From Michael Harrington’s The Other Amer- 
ica to Charles Silberman’s Crisis in the Classroom, rising authors probed flaws 
in the G.I. -built order. At the “right wing” of the spectrum, “Young Americans 
for Freedom” challenged the big-go vemment centrism personified by the G.I. 
Nelson Rockefeller. Whatever their politics, the rising Silent differed from 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


289 


Boomers in their implicit acceptance of the permanence of G.I. institutions 
(booing Rockefeller from inside the arena — not outside, as at Chicago). So too 
did the Silent acknowledge the greater strength of those next-elders. Peter, Paul, 
and Mary sang “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer out justice,” as if to admit the 
G.I.s had the hammers — and were busy hammering out interstate highways and 
ballistic missiles. And cars, those G.I. -friendly machines that Ralph Nader de- 
clared Unsafe at Any Speed , having brought “death, injury, and the most ines- 
timable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people.” 

Among the rising elite, young specialists lent their compliant expertise to the 
institutional order. With Pierre Salinger and Bill Moyers advising G.I. Presidents, 
legions of jobs opened up in public service. A budding intelligentsia lingered in 
universities, shepherding creative young Boomers. Silent athletes manned the 
last clean-cut sports dynasties (Yankees, Packers, Celtics) and provided the 
lonely precursors of athletes’ rights (Curt Flood, John Mackey). In business, a 
wave of smart, trainable entry-level workers helped set records for growth and 
productivity. What Silent workers put in, they got back. Whatever their profes- 
sional field — management, law, civil service, or teaching — Silent men could 
count on acquiring a house and car, and on raising a family comfortably. Silent 
women, however, began to resent being trapped at home, and Silent men prepared 
to break free of a claustrophobia they knew their elders had never felt. Noted 
William Styron as early as 1968: “I think that the best of my generation — those 
in their late thirties or early forties — have reversed the customary rules of the 
game and have grown more radical as they have gotten older — a disconcerting 
but healthy sign.” 

M1IDLIFE: It's Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty. So read the cover of 37-year- 
old Judith Viorst’s 1968 poetry volume — and, in fact, the phrase “never trust 
anyone over thirty” was coined by a Berkeley postgraduate. Jack Weinberg, 
himself approaching that age at a time when the Silent came to notice, envy, 
emulate, and occasionally steer the passions of coming-of-age Boomers. While 
still craving respect from G.I. elders for their manliness and seriousness of 
purpose, the Silent were eager to convince Boomers that they understood them, 
were with them, and could maybe help them channel their anger. Stokely Car- 
michael and the memory of the assassinated Malcolm X radicalized the black 
Silent message to suit young Boomers with more of an instinct for violence. 
From the lyrics of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon to the psychedelic art of Peter 
Max and the Motown sound of Berry Gordy, Silent performers and artists gave 
expression to youth. A young attorney, Sam Yasgur, first coaxed his dad to 
allow use of his pasture and then handled the details of what Sam expected 
would be a mannerly festival at Woodstock. As last-wavers like Abbie Hoffman 
and Jerry Rubin became the pied pipers of revolt (“We knew we couldn’t get 
Archie Bunker, so we went for Archie Bunker’s kids,” Hoffman said later), 
first- wavers began lamenting their own missed opportunities in youth, rethinking 



290 


GENERATIONS 


their capitulation to G.I. culture, and becoming the prototype of what G.I. Spiro 
Agnew derided as “vicars of vacillation” and “nattering nabobs of negativism. ” 
Over a two-month span in 1968, the Silent grieved over the killings of two men 
whom many Silent today still consider their most gifted leaders — Robert Ken- 
nedy (then 43) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (39). A year later, the other Silent 
heir to the Kennedy mystique fell prey to a deadly extramarital entanglement on 
Chappaquiddick Island — a symptom of his peers’ turbulent passage to midlife. 

Having trouble meeting the power standard of next-elders or the ethical stan- 
dard of next-juniors, Silent men built a composite definition of masculinity. Self- 
styled “liberated” males put their families at risk by pursuing what John Updike 
called the “Post-Pill Paradise” and by succumbing to what Barbara Gordon 
called “Jennifer Fever” (a fascination for free-spirited younger women). Midlife 
impresarios flaunted Boom erotica in Playboy clubs, R-rated movies, and O 
Calcutta stage productions. At one end of the Silent male spectrum lay those 
who combined the softer features of their generational neighbors: a confident 
and gentle Merlin Olsen offering floral bouquets, or a rational and sensitive Carl 
Sagan trying to communicate with extraterrestrials. At the other end lay the 
reverse mix: Chuck Norris or Clint Eastwood combining G.I. machismo with 
“Make my day” Boom judgmentalism. Staring at the two ends from a muddled 
in-between sat the Woody Allens, tom between the available choices — like one 
of Gail Sheehy’s peers who wished “somebody would let me be what I am, 
tender sometimes, and a dependent, too, but also vain and greedy and jealous 
and competitive.” Others became outspoken, out-of-the-closet gays (Harvey 
Milk, Barney Frank), even transvestites (Christine Jorgensen, Renee Richards). 
A female generation nearly all of whom had married young now insisted on 
being called Gloria Steinem’s status-cloaking “Ms.,” as their vanguard attacked 
“man the oppressor” (Kate Millett) for being a “natural predator” (Susan 
Brownmiller) driven by “metaphysical cannibalism” (Ti-Grace Atkinson). For- 
tyish women and men asked what Eisler termed “the question that signals the 
end of every marriage: ‘Is this all there is?’ ” While all generations joined 
the divorce epidemic, the Silent were by far the most likely to have children in 
the household — leaving them with the greatest residue of guilt. 

APPROACHING ELDERHOOD: In his 1980 book The Changing of the 
Guard , David Broder confidently proclaimed that “America is changing hands” 
and predicted that what he has more recently called the “Fit Fifties Generation” 
would soon break out from under the G.I. shadow and attain national leadership. 
That didn’t happen. By the late 1980s, people of all ages still looked to aging 
G.I.s for leadership and, increasingly, to Boomers for cultural direction. One 
Silent candidate after another fell prey to a combination of dullness, a media- 
coined “stature gap,” and that generational bugaboo, the “character issue.” 
Two decades earlier, young Silent reporters were neither willing nor able to 
torpedo G.I. candidates the way the mostly Boom press did the midlife Silent 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


291 


over issues like adultery (Gary Hart), plagiarism (Joe Biden), issue flipflops 
(Richard Gephardt), misbehavior of family members (Geraldine Ferraro), or 
technobabble (Michael Dukakis). In 1988, Gary Hart proudly termed his like- 
aged candidates a “generational revolution. ” Reagan referred to them as “kids,” 
the press as “the seven dwarfs” — and, yet again, the Silent nominee fell to a 
G.I. who warned against “the technocrat who makes the gears mesh but doesn’t 
understand the magic of the machine. ’ ’ “If you understand the Silent Generation, 
you understand Mike Dukakis,” quipped one biographer of the governor whose 
very nickname — “Duke” — reminded voters how unWaynelike (and un-G.I.- 
like) he was. 

As rising adults, the Silent once gazed up at midlife G.I.s they then called 
“the establishment.” Through the 1980s they have come to recognize that 
they are the establishment, at least on their resumes — but, somehow, the faces 
they see in the mirror or meet at lunch don’t exude the powerful confidence they 
remember of G.I.s. Peering down the age ladder has only added to their feelings 
of power inadequacy. What especially “chills the blood” of professed liberals 
like Senator Moynihan is the recollection that in their youth, “the old bastards 
were the conservatives. Now the young people are becoming the conservatives 
and we are the old bastards. ’ ’ Liberal or not, the grown-up Lonely Crowd persists 
in its plasticity — at times yielding to Boomer passions, other times heartily 
endorsing whatever the system chums out — be it affirmative action, the free 
market, an incentive tax rate, a UN resolution, or the compromise verdict of 
some expert panel. On both sides of the political spectrum, the Silent would 
much prefer to discuss processes than outcomes. 

In their hands, America has grown more accustomed to deferring or learning 
to live with problems than to taking aggressive steps to solve them. Thanks to 
the size and complexity of the U.S. economy, tenured professors foresee at worst 
a slow parabola of national descent while Brookings’ Henry Aaron remains 
confident that “the nation can muddle through without absolute decline.” 
Congressional leaders set priorities through decision-avoidance mechanisms like 
the Gramm-Rudman Act (or its sequel, “Gramm-Rudman III”), The foreign 
policy trend-setters lean toward James Baker-style multilateralism and a defer- 
ence to international law, what Joseph Nye has called “soft power, the complex 
machinery of interdependence.” Industrialists have been replaced by technocrats 
who manage “M-Form” corporations, financial holding companies long on 
flexibility and short on product identity. Businesses run “cultural audits” of 
their employees, Ben Wattenberg’s “Gross National Spirit” index charts the 
nation’s feelings, and John Naisbitt heralds such “Megatrends” as an “Infor- 
mation Age” of “high-tech /high-touch.” Endowed foundations turn their at- 
tention to every new personal injustice. Oil companies portray themselves as 
nice guys, eager to placate their most hostile critics. A Silent-dominated Judiciary 
Committee rejects a like-aged Supreme Court nominee (Bork) for being too 
abrasive, while embracing another (Souter) for promising that personal opinions 



292 


GENERATIONS 


would “play absolutely no role” in his rulings on abortion. The Census Bureau 
checks bridges and sewers to see that every American is counted, while leaders 
of industry put up little resistance to a costly new law requiring them to retrofit 
for the handicapped. Under the Silent elite, America has become a kinder, more 
communicative place. It has also become culturally fragmented and less globally 
competitive. 

Today’s 50- and 60-year-olds have been less successful in forging a sense of 
national or personal direction than any generation in living memory. Like Robert 
Bellah in Habits of the Heart , many Silent feel disquieted by the lack of con- 
nectedness they see in American life. While Kevin Phillips describes an America 
shadowed by an “End of Empire frustration” and Barbara Ehrenreich a white- 
collar workforce haunted by a “fear of falling,” Jack Kemp foresees exhilarating 
prosperity and George Gilder “a global community of commerce ... a global 
ganglion of electronic and photonic media that leaves all history in its wake.” 
What mostly emerges is fuss and detail, a world view of such enormous com- 
plexity that their own contributions often turn out (as one technician described 
the Hubble telescope mirror) “perfect but wrong.” Sensing this, they feel — 
deep down — a wounded collective ego. Having grown up playing the child’s 
game of Sorry, the Silent cannot abandon what Sheehy calls their “resignation,” 
a vague dissatisfaction with jobs, families, their children, themselves. Ap- 
proaching their own old age, many still find themselves emotionally obliged to 
surviving parents and financially obliged to struggling children in what Robert 
Grossman terms “Parenthood II.” Many are opting for early-retirement pension 
bonanzas that the nation can currently afford simply because (as Easterlin ac- 
curately predicted) their generation is relatively small in numbers. Most aging 
Silent find themselves wealthier, but more confused as to purpose, than they 
ever imagined they would be at this phase of life. As Toffler suggests in 
Power Shift — and Tom Peters in Thriving on Chaos — they sense that the pace of 
social and economic change has accelerated beyond anyone’s ability to control 
it. The best Americans can do, suggests Toffler, is to run faster themselves. The 
peers of Gail Sheehy are thus encountering a new mid-fifties “passage” that 
Daniel Levinson describes as “a silent despair, a pressing fear of becoming 
irrelevant.” Many also feel that endearing if paralyzing quality Ellen Goodman 
saw in Pat Schroeder’s brief run for the Presidency: “a desire to make it to the 
top” with “a deep concern about how you make it.” 

Funny , You Don t Look Like a Grandmother , observes the title of Lois Wyse’s 
1990 book, targeted at Silent first-wavers who are beginning to transform eld- 
erhood around a decidedly un-G.I.-like other-directedness. Travel agents report 
a new boom business in “grandtravel” (grandparent-grandchild trips) and new 
interest in “Elderhostels” reminiscent of the way the Silent toured Europe as 
youths. Self-styled “kids over 60” have formed a “SeniorNet” computer net- 
work. In 1989, affluent mid-sixtyish Social Security beneficiaries formed a “21st 
Century Club” whose members will assign their checks to a philanthropic trust 



THE GREAT POWER CYCLE 


293 


fund. The Silent-led Virginia state legislature recently raised revenues by limiting 
tax breaks for Silent (but not G.I.) retirees. And Ralph Nader is mobilizing 
“Princeton Project ’55“ around the “suppressed crusades among the class- 
mates,” many of whom have become financially successful beyond their col- 
legiate imaginings, but who share an eagerness to join Nader in attacking 
“systemic social problems.” Their agenda remains large. In 1986, the Union 
of International Associations catalogued 10,000 world problems awaiting solu- 
tion — and the Silent Generation is running out of time. 

* * * 

Nearly four decades after the Korean War, no national memorial exists for 
its veterans, prompting one fund-raiser to complain how they were being treated 
“as if they have never lived, never ennobled their time and place, never con- 
tributed to destiny.” Though their own generation is an easy touch for other 
people’s charities, Silent veterans have been slow to assemble funds to build 
this one commemoration to themselves. Their memorial, if it is built, will have 
no Iwo Jima giants doing great deeds, nor will it make any moral statement like 
the dark walls of the Vietnam Memorial. Instead, it will depict thirty-eight life- 
size soldiers in two slightly crooked columns, walking through a forest to nowhere 
in particular. 

“The Silent Generation Is Clearing Its Throat,” proclaimed Florida newspaper 
editor Tom Kelly as the 1990s dawned. “All together now, let’s hear it (softly, 
please, but with feeling) for the Silent Generation, those overridiculed and un- 
derappreciated people.” This modesty is disarming in a generation two of whose 
members (Neil Armstrong and Martin Luther King, Jr.) will likely remain, in 
some distant epoch, among the most celebrated Americans. The peers of Arm- 
strong and King may someday be credited as the generation that opened up the 
dusty closets of contemporary history, diversified the culture, made democracy 
work for the disadvantaged, and — as one friend eulogized of Jim Henson — 
struck a Muppet-like balance “between the sacred and the silly.” Above all, 
the generation that took America from grinding bulldozers to user-friendly com- 
puters, from the circa-1960 “Nuclear Age” into the circa-1990 “Information 
Age,” has excelled at personal communication. The Silent have constantly tried, 
and often succeeded, in defusing conflict by encouraging people to talk to each 
other — from therapeutic T-groups on family problems to Nightline-$ty\e “global 
town meetings” on issues of major importance. They have thus lent flexibility 
to a G.I. -built world that otherwise might have split to pieces under Boom 
attack — and have helped mollify, and ultimately cool, the Boom’s coming-of- 
age passions. Indeed, the Silent have been pathbreakers for much of the 1960s- 
era “consciousness” (from music to film, civil rights to Vietnam resistance) for 
which Boomers too often claim credit. From youth forward, this most considerate 
of living generations has specialized not in grand constructions or lofty ideals, 
but rather in people, life-size people like the statues planned for the Korean War 
Memorial. Barbra Streisand’s agemates would like to believe that “people who 



294 


GENERATIONS 


need people are the luckiest people in the world.” But, true to form, they have 
their doubts. 

Much of this doubt might be resolved if America can someday inaugurate 
just one President who wore that 1950s-era ducktail or ponytail, who served in 
the Peace Corps, who maybe spent a summer with SNCC in Mississippi, and 
who cried as only 30-year-olds did when Martin and Bobby died. In 1990, when 
the mostly Silent U.S. Congress wildly cheered the Czech playwright-dissident- 
President Vaclav Havel, many were no doubt recalling those old coffeehouse 
days and thinking: Here is exactly the sort of avant-garde President we thought 
we'd someday give the world. Until they do, the story of their own generation 
will read, to them, like the middle pages of a book written mainly about somebody 
else. 



Chapter 1 1 


THE MILLENNIAL 
CYCLE 


"Q 

i^Juddenly the Woodstock generation was not wonderfully young, but won- 
derfully old, somehow, full of wisdom, a kind of Druidic savvy signaled by 
long hair, walking staffs and face paint accompanied by the thousand-yard squint 
they’d get after smoking marijuana.” So wrote the Washington Post's Henry 
Allen, in one of the many 1989 retrospectives marking the twentieth anniversary 
of the Woodstock Arts and Music Fair at Bethel, New York. Back in mid-August 
of 1969, Woodstock had been the largest civilian generational gathering in 
American history. As a smattering of celebrants returned to the historic marker 
(dubbed “The Tomb of the Unknown Hippie”) on Max Yasgur’s field, the 
Boomer-dominated media published scores of commemoratives to take stock of 
the prior two decades. Twenty years had passed since the late- 1960s days of 
“generational consciousness” — roughly the span of another generation. Jour- 
nalists fixated on aging radicals like 45-year-old Grace Slick (whose old Jefferson 
Airplane slogan “Feed your head” she now reinterpreted to mean “Go home 
and read a book”) and 42-year-old Arlo Guthrie (“Everybody wears suits more 
than I thought they would, but that’s cosmetic”). But with the passing of two 
decades, Woodstock had already left a legacy for the first three of what history 
suggests will be a four-generation MILLENNIAL Cycle: 

• Grace Slick’s self-absorbed BOOM GENERATION (Idealist, then age 29 to 
46) included the overwhelming majority of the 400,000 youths in their late 


one 



296 


GENERATIONS 


teens and twenties who had attended the original event, plus uncounted 
millions of others who had partaken in the festivals, be-ins, teach-ins, 
strikes, and assorted other youth gatherings of the Woodstock era. Other 
notable events of the Boomer coming-of-age years — the Chicago convention 
riot, People’s Park, Altamont, Kent State — had been deadlier and were 
remembered more soberly, if at all. By now, Boomers were busy trying to 
keep their own children from replaying their own youthful exuberances. 
Where the original (Silent) production of Hair had stripped a Boomer cast 
of clothes, a twentieth-anniversary (Boom) reissue stripped the musical of 
offensive lyrics, turning a song entitled “Sodomy” into a saxophone solo. 
Boomers remained just as ethics-absorbed as always, but Woodstock’s 
“New Age” heirs now had to share the generational spotlight with their 
slightly younger evangelical peers, who had glimpsed the original rock 
concert as grade school or high school students. 

• Wherever Boomers rented old Woodstock videos to celebrate the occasion, 

the punkish part-timers behind the checkout counter probably belonged to 
the THIRTEENTH GENERATION (Reactive, age 8 to 28). For the most 
part, these $6-an-hour youths kept their mouths shut while overhearing 40- 
year-olds revel in their culture and exude an air of having defined forever 
what every person should be around age 20. To these kids, rehashing 
Woodstock was a waste of time: Just look at the mess it left behind — for 
example, the drug-related deaths of seven festival performers (and who 
knows how many thousands of participants) over the ensuing two decades. 
But, never having known anything remotely like Woodstock themselves, 
they were also aware of the possible Boomer comeback: Okay, so what did 
you guys ever do together — invade Grenada? Go wilding? Watch the Chal- 
lenger explosion? And they wondered themselves. A few 13ers revealed a 
rising alienation in their letter-to-the-editor reactions to Boomer commem- 
oratives: like John Cunningham, whose attitude was “Woodstock — blech,” 
and Jeffrey Hoogeveen, who pointedly told Boomers “the Sixties are his- 
tory — history that the rest of us don’t need repeated and crammed down 
our throats.” Hoogeveen ’s peers had been the forgotten toddlers of the 
Woodstock era, kids who by now were old enough to check out such hippie- 
ish videos as Easy Rider and Hair — and who, like The Wonder Years' 
Olivia D’Abo, knew how to imitate or avoid Boomerisms, whichever came 
in handy. 

• Back in 1969, Boomer festivals had celebrated themselves; twenty years later, 

their midsummer outings invariably featured the budding MILLENNIAL 
GENERATION (Civic, age 7 and under). Where many a Boomer had 
hitchhiked to Woodstock, taking rides from goodness knows whom and 
ingesting goodness knows what when they got there (no doubt feeding a 
few 13er babies some mind-expanding leftovers), their tots traveled there 



FIGURE 11-1 

Millennial Cycle: Age Location in History 


SECULAR SPIRITUAL 

CRISIS AWAKENING 



Depression, Boom 

World Awakening 

War II 


N> 

vO 

-4 


THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 



298 


GENERATIONS 


in 1989 strapped into super-safe infant car seats and munching the most 
wholesome snacks their parents could buy. Already, parents deemed these 
children special, worth protecting. The eldest had just finished first grade, 
exposed at home and school to a values-laced list of dos and don’ts unlike 
anything most 13ers had ever heard. Parents and teachers were carefully 
recrafting the child’s world so this next generation would never go near the 
dangerous drugs-and-sex environment of the 1970s. Watching those hard- 
bitten kids behind the video checkout counter, Boom parents redoubled their 
conviction that their younger tots must never be allowed to grow up like 
that. No, when these children became old enough to hold summer jobs, 
they would work in libraries, plant trees, or do something else useful for 
the community. 


Boomers, 13ers, and Millennial are just now beginning to build a generational 
drama that will continue to unwind for decades to come. To date, this has been 
a cycle of relative peace and affluence, mixed with growing individualism, 
cultural fragmentation, moral zealotry, and a sense of political drift and insti- 
tutional failure. That is to be expected. A sense that the public world is spinning 
slowly “out of control’’ is normal for a society moving from an Awakening to 
an Inner-Driven era. 

The Millennial Cycle has completed one exuberant and occasionally violent 
spiritual awakening, but has yet to encounter a secular crisis. It thus contains 
just one social moment to date: 

• The Boom Awakening ( 1 967- 1 980) , best known as the modem ‘ ‘Consciousness 
Revolution,’’ is what William McLoughlin calls America’s “Fourth Awak- 
ening.’’ It began in earnest in 1967 with the “Vietnam Summer,’’ inner- 
city riots, the San Francisco “Summer of Love,’’ and counterculture 
euphoria. It peaked in 1970, with the Kent State and Jackson State violence, 
the first “Earth Day,’’ and the “Days of Rage’’ on university campuses. 
Throughout the 1970s, it spread under the rubric of the human potential 
movement, the “Aquarian Conspiracy,’’ a “New Age’’ transformation of 
manners, families, lifestyles, and values, and the rise of “Jesus people’’ 
and resurgent evangelism. The awakening ebbed sharply in the late 1970s 
with the growing social and economic pessimism that Boomer Patrick Cad- 
dell labeled “malaise,’’ and it ended altogether in 1980 — as rates of crime 
and substance abuse among coming-of-age Americans were reaching their 
postwar peak. Reagan’s election (and his endorsement by the Boom) marked 
the acceptance of rising-adult social roles by a no-longer-youthful cadre of 
1960s kids. AGE LOCATION: G.I.s in elderhood; Silent in midlife; Boomers 
in rising adulthood; 13ers in youth. 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


299 


BOOM GENERATION 

Bom: 1943-1960 
Type: Idealist 

Age Location: 

Boom Awakening in rising adulthood 

“Anarchist heaven on earth.” “Redemption worth fighting for.” That’s 
how Todd Gitlin described People’s Park — an oblong three-acre patch that Cal- 
Berkeley’s G.I. regents cleared in 1969 so they could put up a new student 
facility. The kids wanted to keep it a mixture of garden and hangout, a shrine 
to their budding consciousness. In the ensuing melee, the regents won the battle, 
but the young rioters won the war. Nothing was built. A year earlier, Columbia 
students had rebelled against a similar plan to erect a big gymnasium. There 
too, nothing was built. “You build it up, mother, we gonna tear it down,” was 
Jacob Brackman’s motto for his BOOM GENERATION, then triggering Amer- 
ica’s most furious and violent youth upheaval of the twentieth century. After 
noticing the powerful inner life underlying the youth anger at Harvard, Erik 
Erikson remarked that he saw “more of a search for resacralization in the younger 
than in the older generation.” Afterward, to the surprise of many, the Boomer 
rage cooled. By the mid-1980s, People’s Park had become infested with crime 
and social debris — while a nearby bakery sold $15 tarts iced with the message 
“Victory to the Sandinistas.” The generation that came of age, like Brackman, 
deriding “banality, irrelevance, and all the uglinesses which conspire to dwarf 
or extinguish the human personality,” seemingly lay exposed (in Gitlin’s words) 
as having gone “from J' accuse to Jacuzzi.” In 1989, Berkeley’s fortyish home- 
owners began forming neighborhood associations for the purpose of pushing 
“alcoholics, drug dealers, and wing nuts” out of their parks and out of their 
lives. Now, it appears, this generation is going from Jacuzzi to cold shower. 

As Boomers have charted their life’s voyage, they have metamorphosed from 
Beaver Cleaver to hippie to braneater to yuppie to what some are calling “Neo- 
Puritan” in a manner quite unlike what anyone, themselves included, ever ex- 
pected. As The Who and countless others have been unceasingly (and, to some 
ears, annoyingly) “talkin’ ’bout my generation,” the Boom has outlived any 
number of temporary labels: the “Dr. Spock,” “Pepsi,” “Rock,” “Now,” 
“Sixties,” “Love,” “Protest,” “Woodstock,” “Vietnam,” “Me,” “Big 
Chill,” “Yuppie,” and “Post-Yuppie” Generation. Boomers were blessed from 
the beginning with what their chronicler Landon Jones described as “Great 
Expectations.” Their G.I. parents fully expected them to grow up (in William 



BOOM GENERATION (Bom 1943 to 1960) 


TYPE: Idealist 

Total number: 79,000,000 
Now alive in U.S.: 69,000,000 
Percent immigrant: 10% 

SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

1943 Oliver North 
1943 Janis Joplin (1970) 

1943 Joe Namath 

1944 Angela Davis 

1945 Steve Martin 

1946 David Stockman 
1946 Donald Trump 

1946 Gilda Radner (1989) 

1947 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 
1947 Mark Rudd 

1947 David Letterman 

1948 Jerry Mathers (“the Beaver’’) 

1950 Jane Pauley 

1951 Lee Atwater 
1954 Oprah Winfrey 

1954 Patty Hearst 

1955 Steven Jobs 
1955 William Gates 
1957 Spike Lee 
1959 John McEnroe 


FAMILY TREE 

Typical grandparents: Lost 
Parents: G.L and Silent 
Children: Thirteenth and Millennial 
Typical grandchildren: (new Adaptive) 

FUTURE PERIOD of 
POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

Plurality in Congress: 1995-2015 (proj.) 
Term in White House: 2000-2020 (proj.) 
Majority of Supreme Court: 2010-2030 
(proj.) 

U S. PRESIDENTS: None 

POLITICAL LEADERS 

1943 Bill Bradley 
1943 William Bennett 
1943 Newt Gingrich 

1947 Dan Quayle 

1948 Albert Gore, Jr. 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1943 Lech Walesa 
1943 Mick Jagger 
1945 Daniel Ortega 
1948 Prince Charles 
1953 Benazir Bhutto 


Age 

Date 

0- 3 

1946 

0- 6 

1949 

0-11 

1954 

0-14 

1957 

4-21 

1964 

7-24 

1967 

9-26 

1969 

10-27 

1970 

12-29 

1972 

14-31 

1974 

21-38 

1981 

28-45 

1988 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

Spock publishes baby-care book; start of postwar “baby boom’’ 

TV age begins; 1 million sets in U.S. 

Polio vaccine discovered; Brown school desegregation decision 
Sputnik in orbit; science education becomes a national priority 
Free Speech Movement at Berkeley; Vietnam War (1964-1973) starts 
Vietnam Summer; Summer of Love; race riots in over one hundred cities 
Student strikes; Apollo moon landing; Woodstock festival 
Kent State and Jackson State massacres; “Days of Rage”; Earth Day 
McGovern tries to rally youth vote and loses badly; draft ends 
Woodward and Bernstein help topple Nixon in Watergate scandal 
Start of Reagan era; first use of word “yuppie” 

A1 Gore runs for President; Dan Quayle elected Vice President 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: Doonesbury (comic, Garry Trudeau); All the 
President’s Men (Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein); The Fate of the Earth (Jonathan Schell); 
The Color Purple (Alice Walker); Cathy (comic, Cathy Guise wite); American Pie (song, Don 
McLean); Saturday Night Live (TV show); Close Encounters of the Third Kind (film, Steven 
Spielberg); Strawberry Statement (James Kunen); Green Rage (Christopher Manes); Vietnam 
Veterans Memorial (Maya Lin); Do the Right Thing (film, Spike Lee) 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


301 


Manchester’s words) “adorable as babies, cute as grade school pupils and striking 
as they entered their teens,” after which “their parents would be very, very 
proud of them.” In 1965, Time magazine declared teenagers to be “on the fringe 
of a golden era” — and two years later described collegians as cheerful builders 
who would “lay out blight-proof, smog-free cities, enrich the underdeveloped 
world, and, no doubt, write finis to poverty and war.” Hardly. As those sunny 
prophecies collapsed, one by one. Boomers next heard themselves collectively 
touted as a surly political powerhouse, easily capable of sweeping candidates of 
their choice to the White House. Not so. Starting with George McGovern in 
1972, the Boom has played the role of political siren — first tempting candidates, 
then luring them to their demise. Meanwhile, the Silent demographer Richard 
Easterlin predicted that the Boom would feel a lifelong “inadequacy” because 
of a numbers-fueled peer-on-peer competition. Wrong again. Even if many 
Boomers have felt pinched by the real estate and job markets, no twentieth- 
century generation has looked within and seen less “inadequacy” than the smug 
Boom. 

In Do You Believe in Magic?, Annie Gottlieb declared the Boom “a tribe 
with its roots in a time, rather than place or race.” First wave or last, Boomers 
recall that “time” as the 1960s, a decade they remember more fondly than other 
generations. Their eighteen years of birth began (in 1943) with the first real 
evidence that G.I. optimism would be rewarded with victory and ended (in 1960) 
with the first election of a G.I. President. Unlike the Silent, Boomers lack any 
childhood recollection of World War II. Unlike 13ers, they were all reaching 
adolescence or lingering in “post- adolescence” (a term coined for them) before 
the Vietnam War drew to a close. Their first cohort, the 1943 “victory babies,” 
have thus far ranked among the most self-absorbed in American history; their 
last cohorts are remembered by college faculties as the last (pre-Reagan-era) 
students to show Boomish streaks of intellectual arrogance and social immaturity. 
The Boom birthyears precede the demographic “baby boom” by three years at 
the front edge, four at the back. “I think you could take the baby boom back a 
few years,” agrees Boom pollster Patrick Caddell, noting how those bom in the 
early 1960s “have had different experiences, and their attitudes don’t really fit 
in with those of the baby boomers.” 

From VJ-Day forward, whatever age bracket Boomers have occupied has 
been the cultural and spiritual focal point for American society as a whole. 
Through their childhood, America was child-obsessed; in their youth, youth- 
obsessed; in their “yuppie” phase, yuppie-obsessed. Always, the Boom has 
been not just a new generation, but what Brackman has termed “a new notion 
of generation with new notions of its imperatives.” Arriving as the inheritors 
of G.I. triumph, Boomers have always seen their mission not as constructing a 
society, but of justifying, purifying, even sanctifying it. Where the Missionaries 
had made G.I.s leam the basics, the G.I.s taught Boomers critical thinking. 
Kenneth Keniston noted how, even in early childhood, Boomers showed an 



302 


GENERATIONS 


“orientation to principle.” Coming of age, they applied their critical thinking — 
and new principles — back against the very scientism under which they had been 
raised. (“We are Bomb Babies,” declared 23-year-old Ronald Allison in 1967. 
“We grew up with fallout in our milk.”) Launching the modem “Consciousness 
Revolution,” Boomers found their parents’ world in need of a major spiritual 
overhaul, even of creative destruction. In 1968, a Radcliffe senior declared in 
her class’s commencement prayer: “We do not feel like a cool, swinging gen- 
eration — we are eaten up by an intensity that we cannot name.” In 1980, a 
dramatic twelve-point October shift among Boom voters turned a slim Reagan 
lead into a landslide. During the intervening years, Boomers led America through 
an era of inner fervor unlike any seen since the 1890s. 

This Consciousness Revolution was waged across a generation gap between 
Boomers and G.I.s. It began within families, as a revolt against fathers. Most 
older Americans who studied young radicals in the late 1960s were struck by 
their attachment to mothers and their “ambivalence” (Keniston), “oedipal re- 
bellion” (Malcolm), or attitude of “parricide” (Feuer) toward male authority. 
Youth fury over Vietnam helped spread this patriphobia beyond the family. 
Many of the most memorable youth symbols of that era were direct affronts 
against the constructions of G.I. men — from the fury over napalm (whose fore- 
runner, the flamethrower, had enabled G.I.s to overrun enemy pillboxes) and 
the two-fingered peace taunt (adapted from the old G.I. V-for- victory) to the 
defiant wearing of khaki (the G.I. color of uniformed teamwork) and the des- 
ecration of that very symbol of civic loyalty, the American flag. Several of the 
most celebrated youth uproars of 1969-1971 had a decided anti-G.I. ring: the 
hippie invasion of Disneyland, the burning of the Isla Vista Bank of America, 
the Earth Day burial of an automobile. Even as the society- wide generation gap 
receded in the 1970s, the Boom ethos remained a deliberate antithesis to every- 
thing G.I.: spiritualism over science, gratification over patience, negativism over 
positivism, fractiousness over conformity, rage over friendliness, self over com- 
munity. 

This quest for “self” — what Gitlin has termed “the voyage to the interior” 
and Christopher Lasch (more critically) the “culture of narcissism” — was a 
central theme of the Boom lifecycle through rising adulthood. Outwardly, it 
manifested itself in that distinctly Boom sense of suspended animation, of re- 
sisting permanent linkages to mates, children, corporations, and professions. 
Like Katharine Ross in The Graduate , Boomers approached the altar (or nursery, 
or corporate ladder) and heard something inside scream “STOP/” Having 
jammed the gears of the Silent-era coming-of-age treadmill, Boomers found 
themselves in a social no-man’s-land, unable to satisfy their perfectionist im- 
pulses. Many simply grazed, lending no more than casual interest and wry 
comment to the world around them, applying what sounded to others like a pick- 
and-choose idealism and showing an apparent lack of interest in building com- 
munity life. They developed a unique brand of perfectionism in consumption, 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


303 


a desire for the best within a very personal (and often financially austere) defi- 
nition of taste. If a Boomer couldn’t afford a house or family, he could at least 
afford the very best brand of mustard or ice cream — a “zen luxuriousness” with 
which Katy Butler watched her peers squeeze “the maximum possible enjoyment 
out of the minimum possible consumption.” This mixture of high self-esteem 
and selective self-indulgence has at once repelled and fascinated other genera- 
tions, giving Boomers a reputation for grating arrogance — and for transcendent 
cultural wisdom. 

The Boom’s fixation on self has forged an instinct to make plans or judgments 
according to wholly internalized standards, based on immutable principles of 
right and wrong. This gift for deductive logic over inductive experimentation 
has made Boomers better philosophers than scientists, better preachers than 
builders. The highest-testing Boom cohorts, those bom in the mid- 1940s, have 
reached the age where scientific achievement ordinarily peaks — yet their rise 
has coincided with an era of declining American preeminence in engineering 
and math-and-science fields. Boomers were very late to win a Nobel Prize, 
Thomas Cech winning their first in 1989. (At the same life phase, the Lost, 
G.I., and Silent had won two, four, and six, respectively.) Instead, Boomers 
have excelled in occupations calling for creative independence — the media, 
especially. Exalting individual conscience over duty to community, Boomers 
have had difficulty achieving consensus and mobilizing as a unit — making them 
far weaker than the G.I.s at getting big jobs done. Their sense of generational 
identity is more a Beatlean “Pepperland” — a zone of parallel play — than a peer 
society in the G.I. sense. They try to be “together” people not collectively but 
individually, consistent with what David Pielke defines as “the notion that infinite 
worth resides in each and every one of us.” Like Donald Trump, a prototype 
Boomer sees himself capable of becoming a titan of whatever world he chooses 
fully to inhabit — providing cover for personal disappointments or (as a Boomer 
might put it) “deferred” ambitions. 

Having come of age with mainly an inner catharsis, Boomers sustain a com- 
pelling urge for the perfection of man’s religious impulses, and for reducing any 
dependence on the physical self. In the adolescent years of Boom radicals, 
Keniston noted the “great intensification of largely self-generated religious feel- 
ings, often despite a relatively nonreligious childhood and background.” This 
began, in part, with drugs — what The Aquarian Conspiracy's Marilyn Ferguson 
described as “a pass to Xanadu” for “spontaneous, imaginative, right-brained” 
youths. The Boom’s drug phase passed after bringing transcendence to the first 
wave, crime to the last — and, by 1990, has been stripped of its spiritual trappings 
by Boomers (office-seekers, especially) who now say they didn’t enjoy what 
they repeatedly ingested. In their subsequent search for spiritual euphoria, Boom- 
ers flocked from drugs to religion, to “Jesus” movements, evangelicalism, New 
Age utopianism, and millennialist visions of all sorts. As they did, they spawned 
the most active era of church formation of the twentieth century. 



304 


GENERATIONS 


The Boomers’ self-absorption has also lent their generation — male and fe- 
male — a hermaphroditic, pistil- and- stamen quality. In The Singular Generation, 
Wanda Urbanska exalted their “self-sexuality,” their “ability to give pleasure 
to oneself. ” Having grown up when sex-role distinctions had reached their 1950s- 
era zenith, Boomers of both sexes have spent a lifetime narrowing them. Men 
are intruding into the domain of values nurturance that, in their youth, mainly 
belonged to G.I. mothers and teachers, while Boomer women are invading the 
secular roles once reserved for can-do G.I. males. These trends have made 
Boomers more independent of social bonds, yet also more open to emotional 
isolation and economic insecurity. Concerned that their male peers may be 
unreliable providers, Boomer women are the first since the peers of Jane Addams 
to fear that early marriage and family may actually worsen their future household 
standard of living. 

As Boomers begin entering midlife, a schism has emerged between mostly 
fortyish modernists and New Agers at one edge, and mostly thirty ish tradition- 
alists and evangelicals at the other. Each side refuses to compromise on matters 
of principle — believing, like anti-abortionist Bill Tickel, that “it’s just easier to 
have blanket absolutes.” This values clash reflects an important bipolarity be- 
tween the generation’s first and last waves, whose differences have been widely 
noted by pollsters and marketers. At one end, the “victory” and “hello” babies 
of the middle to late 1940s were bom almost entirely to G.I. s, not long after 
the peak years of parental protectiveness. At the other, the babies of the con- 
formist late 1950s were parented mostly by Silent just as that protectiveness was 
giving way, and came of age at the point of maximum freedom (some would 
say chaos) in adolescent life. To date, last- wave Boomers have fared worse than 
first- wavers in educational aptitude, financial security, and self-destructive be- 
havior; first-wave Boomers have fared worse in marital stability — partly because 
they married earlier. (G.I. cohorts showed precisely the opposite trends, from 
first wave to last.) But measured by inner-life standards, the two ends of the 
Boom feel equally serene. 

This generation has a fuse-lit explosiveness well suggested by its name. In 
1946, Fortune magazine declared the start of “the Great American Boom,” a 
“boom” not just in fertility, but also in economics, education, housing, and 
science. The robust achievements and optimism of that era left a lasting mark 
on children. If G.I. s measure their worth objectively, by the works they leave 
to history, Boomers measure themselves subjectively, by the spiritual strength 
they see within. Many are having difficulty matching their parents’ like-aged 
achievements in economic and family life. Yet they invariably consider their 
“consciousness” to be higher — and, by that yardstick, they are doing very well. 
From urban lofts to rural communes, downwardly mobile Boomers “face the 
truth about the way they live now with some dignity and grace,” Katy Butler 
reports. “If it’s by choice and it’s not overwhelming, having no money can be 
a way of entering more deeply into your life.” Many of them are “choosing” 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


305 


not to achieve by any worldly standard. But the American Dream does indeed 
live on for this generation — in the form of a well-ravished soul. 


Boomer Facts 

• Demographers attribute roughly half of the postwar “baby boom” to unusual 

fecundity, the other half to an unusual bunching of family formation. The 
main bulge, from 1946 to 1957, resulted from the coincident babymaking 
of late-nesting G.I.s and early-nesting Silent. After 1957, most last-wave 
Boomers (and first- wave 13ers) were the younger children of large Silent- 
headed families. 

• In training, confidence, and sheer time spent changing bedsheets, no generation 

of American women can match the G.I.s for the intensity of the nurture 
they provided their mostly Boom children. Among Boomer preschoolers 
who had working mothers, four in five were cared for in their own homes, 
usually by relatives. Only 2 percent attended institutional child care. 

• During the Boomer youth, G.I. science made sweeping advances against child- 

hood illness — conquering such once-terrible diseases as diphtheria and po- 
lio, and fluoridating the water to protect teeth. Pediatrics reached its height 
of physical aggressiveness: No generation of kids ever got more shots or 
had more operations, including millions of circumcisions and tonsillecto- 
mies that would not now be performed. 

• In his interviews with undergraduate male activists in the late 1960s, Keniston 

encountered “an unusually strong tie between these young men and their 
mothers in the first years of life.” In 1970, one poll found 32 percent of 
white Boomers (44 percent of blacks) mentioning their mothers alone as 
“the one person who cares about me.” Only 8 percent of whites (2 percent 
of blacks) gave the same response about their fathers. A year later, G.I. 
author Philip Wylie labeled the Boom The Sons and Daughters of Mom. 

• By almost any standard of social pathology, the Boom is a generation of 

worsening trends. From first- wave to last- wave teenagers, death rates for 
every form of accidental death rose sharply — and the rates of drunk driving, 
suicide, illegitimate births, and teen unemployment all doubled or tripled. 
Crime rates also mounted with each successive cohort, giving rise after the 
mid-1960s to “crime waves” that seemed to worsen with each passing year. 
During the 1970s, the incidence of serious youth crime grew twice as fast 
as the number of youths. Criminals bom in 1958, moreover, were 80 percent 
more likely than criminals bom in 1945 to commit multiple crimes — and 
80 percent more likely to send their victims to the hospital or morgue. 



306 


GENERATIONS 


• The seventeen-year SAT slide spanned nearly the entire Boom, from the 1946 

cohort to the 1963 (13er) cohort — yet the worst years of that slide coincided 
with the greatest grade inflation ever measured. In 1969, 4 percent of college 
freshmen claimed to have had a straight-A high school grade average; by 
1978, that proportion had nearly tripled, to 1 1 percent. From 1969 to 1975, 
the average collegiate grade rose from a C -f to a B. By 1971 , three-fourths 
of all colleges offered alternatives to traditional marking systems. 

• Within the Boom, the “sexual revolution” was more a women’s than a men’s 

movement. Comparing the 1970s with the 1950s, one survey showed 
Boomer men with only a 3 percent increase in sexual activity over what 
the Silent did at like age — the smallest increase for any age bracket over 
that span. Similarly, the proportion of male youths experiencing premarital 
sex rose only slightly from the Silent to Boom eras. By contrast, Boomer 
women doubled the rate of premarital sex over the Silent (from 41 percent 
to 8 1 percent) and tripled their relative propensity to commit adultery (from 
one-fourth to three-fourths of the rate for men). 

• The effort to avoid service in Vietnam was a more pervasive generational bond 

than service in the war itself. Only one Boomer man in sixteen ever saw 
combat. Among all the rest, two-thirds attributed their avoidance to some 
deliberate dodge. One Boomer in six accelerated marriage or fatherhood 
(and one in ten juggled jobs) to win a deferment, while one in twenty-five 
abused his body to flunk a physical. One percent of Boomer men committed 
draft-law felonies — ten times the percentage killed in combat. Less than 
one of every hundred offenders was ever jailed. The 1943-1947 cohorts 
provided the bulk of the draft avoiders, the 1947-1953 cohorts most of the 
combat troops. The median soldier age during the Vietnam War (19) was 
the lowest in American history. 

• The Boom’s only consensus “lesson” about Vietnam was that it was badly 

handled by G.I. leaders. Before 1970, Boomer opinion split roughly in half 
over the basic issue of U.S. presence in Southeast Asia. Only after the Kent 
State shootings and the “Days of Rage” did most college-attending Boomers 
oppose the war — although non-college Boomers remained more prowar than 
any elder group (college-educated or not). Today, one Boomer in four 
considers Vietnam to have been a “noble cause” (the highest proportion 
for any generation), and the generation splits roughly 50-50 between those 
who think the United States should have stayed out and those who would 
have fought to win. Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Boomers 
were more inclined than any other generation to believe that sending Amer- 
ican troops to the Gulf was “the right thing” to do. 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


307 


• During the 1980s, rising-adult Boomers migrated out of mainline “established” 

churches, but surged into New Age and evangelical sects. Through the 
decade, overall Boom church attendance rose by nearly 30 percent. Amer- 
ica’s fastest-growing church is the Assembly of God (whose membership 
quadrupled in the 1980s), its largest branch of Protestantism is the funda- 
mentalist Southern Baptist church, and the number of “charismatic” or 
“pentecostal” Catholics has quintupled. America now has more Muslims 
than Episcopalians. Seven Boomers in ten believe in psychic phenomena 
(versus five in ten among older generations). Within the generation, polls 
show first-wave Boomers believing more in meditation and reincarnation, 
last-wavers more in “born-again” conversion, mealtime grace, and the 
inherent conflict between religion and science. 

• In the 1988 Presidential primaries, Boomers gave the greatest generational 

support to the two reverends in the race: Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson. 
(G.I.s gave them the least support.) 

• Were it not for employed women (and dual-income households), Boomer 

family incomes would be well below what the Silent earned at like age. 
Married Boomer couples are doing slightly better than their next-elders did, 
single women much better. But the individual Boomer man is not. A 40- 
year-old first- waver earns about 15 percent more than his G.I. father did at 
like age, whereas a 30-year-old last- waver has fallen about 10 percent behind 
his Silent father. Between age 30 and 40, where the typical full-time G.I. 
worker enjoyed a 63 percent inflation-adjusted rise in income, the first- 
wave Boom worker suffered a net 1 percent decline. 

• Asked to compare themselves economically with their fathers at the same phase 

of life, Boomers are evenly split over whether they are doing better or 
worse. Yet they overwhelmingly consider their careers better (by a five-to- 
one ratio), their personal freedoms greater (by six to one), and their lives 
more meaningful (by nine to one). 


The Boom Lifecycle 

YOUTH: “We wanted our children to be inner-directed,” recalled G.I. Eda 
LeShan. “It seemed logical to us that fascism and communism. . .could not 
really succeed except in countries where children were raised in very authoritarian 
homes.” Boom children enjoyed a hothouse nurture in intensely child-focused 
households and communities. As G.I. dads worked to pay the bills, G.I. moms 
applied what LeShan termed “democratic discipline,” dealing with children 
“thoughtfully, reasonably, and kindly.” Seeking advice, these moms turned to 



308 


GENERATIONS 


a like-aged pediatrician, Benjamin Spock, who mixed science with friendliness 
and instructed his G.I. peers that “we need idealistic children.” Coaxing (rather 
than pulling rank) in the nursery, Spock-guided moms applied his “permissive” 
feeding schedule to infants. Extending this logic to older kids, my-child-is-my- 
career moms invested tremendous maternal time and energy in grade-school 
Boomers. They hosted Cub Scout dens, typed book reports, cleaned children’s 
rooms, and applied what one California psychologist termed the “He’ll-clean- 
up-his-room- when-he ’ s-ready-to-have-a-clean-room ’ ’ philosophy . First- wave 
Boomers passed through public schools in their Sputnik-era peak of institutional 
confidence, thanks in part to a powerful mutual support network between G.I. 
mothers and teachers. Many a child’s life did indeed match the Happy Days 
image preserved in vintage television sit-coms. To the eye of a Boomer kid, any 
problem seemed fixable by adults, especially once those white-coated scientists 
came on the scene. To youths like Cheryl Merser, “somebody was always 
watching over them — God or a saint or a guardian angel or the stars or whatever,” 
and the future looked to be “the way life was on The Jetsons — happy, easy, 
uncomplicated, prosperous.” To most middle-class youths, poverty, disease, 
and crime were invisible — or were, at most, temporary nuisances that would 
soon succumb to the inexorable advance of affluence. With the outer world 
looking fine, the inner world became the point of youth focus. 

As successive Boom cohorts passed through childhood, the adult nurturing 
style leaned more toward tolerance than guidance, and parents began second- 
guessing the sacrifices they were making for the sake of their kids. Meanwhile, 
the adolescent environment darkened. From sex to politics, circa- 1970 campus 
behavior swiftly filtered down to kids in high school, even junior high. By now 
reflecting a Silent ethos, public schools began losing the old G.I. mom-to-teacher 
peer support system. Reform-minded educators began insisting that adults had 
as much to learn from youths as vice versa. The curricula stressed learning skills 
over subject matter, social relevance over timeless facts. New student “rights” 
were litigated, and old extracurricular activities atrophied. Adolescent boy-girl 
coupling became increasingly tentative and individualized; where the Silent had 
gone “steady,” Boomers went “with” someone. Popular song lyrics gradually 
shifted from Silentish styles (today remembered as “light” rock) to the more 
Boom-driven pessimism and defiance associated with “hard” (or “acid”) rock. 
The Silent-era couples-only Saturday-night dance nearly vanished, eclipsed by 
rock concerts at which dateless teenagers could dance the night away all by 
themselves if they wanted. The first Boomer cohorts came of sexual age with 
the Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand, middle cohorts with the Rolling Stones’ 
Let's Spend the Night Together , late cohorts with Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing 
in the Dark. Yet, whether first-wavers asserting a creative role in an idealized 
future or last-wavers attempting a more defiant withdrawal from the world, 
adolescents looked within themselves to find solutions to life’s problems. 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


309 


COMING OF AGE: “I Am a Student! Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate!” 
read the pickets outside Berkeley’s Sproul Hall in 1964, mocking the computer- 
punch-card treatment the faculty was supposedly giving them. Where student 
movements had once been the work of a lonely (and polite) few, masses of 
youths began swarming to angry rallies. Coffeehouse poets gave way to bullhorn- 
toting radicals, in what Silent ex-activists Peter Collier and David Horowitz 
recall as a generational shift. “Those of us who had come of age in the fifties” 
and “were more comfortable thinking or talking about it” gave way to a later- 
bom “second wave of activists” more likely to heed the simple motto: “Do 
It!’ ’ With the dawning of the Silent-led but Boom-energized “Free Speech 
Movement,” these undergraduates served first notice of what would, by 1967, 
become the most emotionally intense and culturally influential youth rebellion 
in American history. The next four years brought a series of angry youth uprisings 
in schools, military depots, and inner cities — joined by a mixture of students 
and like-minded “nonstudents” who hung around campuses. Wealthy kids 
dressed down, donned unisex styles, and became self-declared “freaks” — as if 
to reject the affluence and ordered family lives of their parents. As James Kunen 
put it in The Strawberry Statement, “I want everyone to see me and say There 
goes an enemy of the state,’ because that’s where I’m at, as we say in the 
revolution biz.” “STRIKE!” became the summons, the clenched fist the em- 
blem, T-shirts and jeans the uniform, and “corporate liberalism” the enemy. 
“Who are these people?” asked the Silent Daniel Moynihan, then on the Harvard 
faculty. “I suggest to you they are Christians arrived on the scene of Second 
Century Rome.” 

Screaming radicals and freaked-out “hippies” represented just 10 to 15 per- 
cent of their generation, but the righteous often prevailed in a youth culture 
where purity of moral position counted most. In sharp contrast to the depression- 
era days of G.I. student “isms,” organization counted for little. Keniston notes 
how the “young radicals” of the late 1960s, having grown up with “feelings 
of loneliness, solitude, and isolation,” were profoundly mature by measures of 
ego strength and self-esteem, yet still childlike in their social skills. Collegians 
could issue “nonnegotiable demands” with little fear of later consequences, in 
part because of the amnesty they always demanded (and usually received), but 
also because the supercharged G.I. -built economy offered good jobs to all com- 
ers. The arguments of the New Left (led by “red diaper” babies who were 
waging their own battle against Old Left G.I. fathers) tended to be moral and 
cultural, with virtually no appeal off-campus. Yet a similar depth of rage welled 
up among Boomers who showed no affinity with college strikers. Urban black 
youths sparked deadly riots in American cities; non-college white Boomers were 
twice as likely as their elders to vote for George Wallace in the 1968 election; 
and the many town-versus-gown scuffles of that era were, in the main, Boom- 
on-Boom affairs. 



310 


GENERATIONS 


With the economy still purring, the youth frenzy congealed around the Viet- 
nam War — a policy construction almost perfectly designed to create conflict 
between rationalist elders and spiritualist juniors. Waging it as a limited, sci- 
entifically managed form of international pest control, G.I. leaders supported a 
morally questionable ally and avoided asking for any contribution from non- 
combatants (LBJ’s “guns and butter”). Though not pacifist by nature, Boomers 
had been raised to question, argue, and ultimately disobey orders not comporting 
with self-felt standards and ultimate sacrifices. As much as Boomers hated the 
war, what they hated worse was the draft — its intrusion on privacy, its stated 
policy of “channeling” their lives in government- approved directions. With help 
from Silent counsel, Boomers did a good job of bollixing it. Yet the draft’s 
enormous class bias created festering divisions between Boomers who went to 
Vietnam and those who didn’t. For those who came of age in Southeast Asia, 
war offered little glory and few fond memories. The war’s most celebrated heroes 
were G.I. POWs like Jeremiah Denton (or, in film, the aging “Green Beret” 
John Wayne), the most famous firelight was the My Lai atrocity, and the most 
publicized Boom soldier was William Calley. Coming home. Boomer “vets” 
had a defeat to haunt them, not a victory to empower them. 

Vietnam casualties peaked in the same year (1969) that the Boomer rebellion 
turned bloody, with an eighteen-month spate of radical bombings and shoot- 
ings — and a surge in street crime. Youths then felt what Gitlin described as “a 
tolerance, a fascination, even a taste” for violence. According to a Gallup Poll 
in 1970, 44 percent of all college students (versus only 14 percent of the public 
at large) believed that violence was justified to bring about social change. Rap 
Brown called violence “as American as apple pie,” Angela Davis used it to 
great media effect, and the photo of Patty Hearst staging a bank holdup made 
older generations fear the latent urges in the most normal-looking people her 
age. From the Boom perspective, the most successful student strikes were those 
in which force was either threatened by strikers (as at Cornell) or used against 
them (by G.I. presidents Kerr, Kirk, and Pusey at Berkeley, Columbia, and 
Harvard). In the end, unwanted violence broke the youth fever. The killing of 
six students at Kent State and Jackson State briefly mobilized the generation in 
1970. Following the “Days of Rage,” polls showed campus unrest leading the 
nation’s list of problems, and older generations showed a fixation on youth 
opinion unlike anything since the days of the young Missionaries. Eighteen- 
year-olds were awarded the vote, and national political conventions quadrupled 
the number of under-30 delegates. In 1970, the Silent Charles Reich wrote a 
rapturous best seller about how the Boom’s “Consciousness III” would lead to 
The Greening of America. 

Then, as the war wound down and draft calls eased, Boomers began heeding 
their Beatle mentors’ “simple words of wisdom: Let It Be.” When the economy 
went sour in 1973, the youth mood turned to a grinding pessimism. The storm 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


311 


having passed, last- wavers came of age amid a gray generational drizzle of sex, 
drugs, unemployment, and what Lansing Lamont called a “lost civility” on 
campus. In politics, the Boom settled in as more apathetic and just plain illiberal 
than their G.I. parents could ever have imagined. As the Boom showed an air 
of resignation about government and business, aging G.I.s began acquiescing 
to the youth cult of self — and America’s consumption binge was off and running. 

RISING ADULTHOOD: “I have made no plans because I have found no 
plans worth making,” declared the Dartmouth valedictorian in 1971. “All too 
many people are just waiting for life rather than living,” observed the Berkeley 
Daily Californian in that same year. In politics and family lives, Boomers in 
their twenties remained detached — yet in the smaller strokes of their day-to-day 
existence, they began testing what they found within on the world without. Many 
began showing an emotional intensity older generations found strange, even 
compulsive. As exercise faddists searched for the “runner’s high,” backpackers 
with graduate degrees sparked a back-to-nature movement unlike anything seen 
since the turn of the century, and meditative diet faddists triggered what historian 
Harvey Levenstein terms “the century’s Second Golden Age of Food Quackery.” 
Through the 1970s, people of all ages still looked to Boomers for values guidance, 
and Boom trends soon blossomed into national attitudes — for example, as con- 
sumer brand loyalties weakened and “Made in the U.S.A.” became passe among 
the cognoscenti. But the biggest news came in the workplace. In athletics, the 
first occupation over which they gained leverage, the likes of Andy Messersmith 
and Joe Namath proclaimed “free agency,” after which sporting life grew more 
argumentative and less team-oriented. A few years later, a growing flood of late- 
starting Boomers began to spread these same traits throughout the economy. 
They insisted on having “meaningful” (read: un-G.I.-like) careers, and by the 
mid-1970s America’s postwar productivity surge came to an abrupt end. Not 
drawn to industrial or service jobs, cutting-edge Boomers preferred smallish, 
eclectic businesses. Their homes began bristling with offices, neighborhoods 
with support services — an infrastructure around which, piece by piece, the econ- 
omy was retooling to match the Boom’s personality. 

Thirtyish first-wavers were also actively designing a new concept of self- 
religion. The Boom heralded the “New Age” with the “Manifesto of the 
Person,” asserting “our sovereign right of self-discovery.” In this “Human 
Potential Movement,” self-described as a “reaction to industrialized, mecha- 
nized thinking,” large numbers of Boomers began dabbling in psychic phenom- 
ena and experiments in communal living. Whether immersed in Tai Chi, Zen, 
beta waves, or other New Age mind states, Boomers built churches in the privacy 
of their own heads. Urbanska termed this “Sheilaism,” naming it after a friend 
named Sheila who had “this little voice inside” saying “God is whatever I 
feel.” Conversions to “born-again” fundamentalism became more common than 



312 


GENERATIONS 


at any time in living memory. Boom religion returned the Calvinist notion of 
“calling” to its original emphasis on the immediate and subjective. A rising 
adult did not have to spend a lifetime preparing G.I. “works” for salvation. 
Boomers viewed spiritual life the way Richard Darman later described their 
consumption: They wanted it all — “NOWWWWW!” 

Enter the “yuppie.” Literally, the word means “young urban professionals,” 
but that is misleading: Only some 5 percent of the Boom match the demographic 
(urban, professional, affluent) definition of the word. A much larger proportion, 
however, fit the subjective definition: self-immersion, an impatient desire for 
personal satisfaction, and weak civic instincts. Everything a yuppie does — what 
he eats, drinks, listens to, lives in, and invests for — sends a negative message 
about G.I. -style culture and institutions, at a time when G.I.s are losing energy 
to resist. The yuppie spurns organized philanthropies for causes he thinks he has 
discovered himself. His busiest work occurs in the smallest units: the home, the 
small business, the PTA, the day-care center, the town zoning board, the “pri- 
vatized” governing body. His method of achieving social change — unassociated 
individuals, each acting pursuant to his own compass — is the opposite of the 
cohesive, peer-pressured G.I. approach at like age. The word “yuppie” first 
appeared in 1981, just after most Boomers chose Reagan over Carter, and sig- 
naled their acceptance of adult social roles. Having finished the task of reforming 
the inner world, this generation gradually began taking on the outer. 

APPROACHING MIDLIFE: Where the Silent once prided themselves on 
their ability to “grow young” with advancing age, Boomers look upon them- 
selves as “growing up” to a new sense of responsibility and self-denial — what 
P. J. O’Rourke calls the “new seriousness.” One advertising agency labels 
Boomers “the New Grown-ups” and claims they are launching an “era of less- 
than- instant gratification.” In her thirties, Cheryl Merser discovered that “a 
grown-up is someone who can buy cookies and not eat the whole package at 
once.” The fastest-track yuppies are showing a growing taste for ascetic self- 
denial — for example, preferring negative product names (nonfat, noncaffeine, 
non-aerosol, non-nitrate, even “no-color” mascara) that flaunt what the con- 
sumer is not consuming. Surveys show that today’s Boomers are more apt to 
believe that patience is necessary to appreciate value and are more likely to buy 
products that are good than products that taste or feel good. Their aging has a 
nonapologetic quality — as though now that they’re older, they know better. 

More in parallel than collectively, Boomers are asserting judgments that reflect 
the perfect moral order of Pepperland. Although they have grown reasonably 
comfortable with aging G.I. leaders who adopt their “values” terminology, 
Boomers still see themselves as the embodiment of moral wisdom. It makes no 
difference that they have entirely vacated the “youth” age bracket. On matters 
of right and wrong, in fact, most Boomers now care as little for the opinions of 
their 13er juniors as they ever cared for the opinions of their G.I. and Silent 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


313 


elders. At the very moment Boomers patched up the rift with their parents, notes 
journalist Henry Allen, “they saw they still had problems with materialistic 
Republican reactionaries, except that the reactionaries were twenty years 
younger.” “A generation that when young trusted nobody over 30 today trusts 
nobody under 30,” agrees Pennsylvania history professor Alan Kors, observing 
how his peers seek to “cleanse the souls of the undergraduates of the political, 
social, and moral sins” of their youthful upbringing. 

A growing chorus of social critics is noticing a Boom-led (and often 13er- 
targeted) “New Puritanism” in circa- 1990 America. Forty ish Americans are 
beginning to police “politically correct” behavior, pass “anti-ugly” zoning 
ordinances, punish students for “inappropriately directed laughter,” circulate 
“Green Lifestyle” guides and attach “Green Seals” to products, ban obscene 
music, promote “chastity,” and even support novel forms of corporal punish- 
ment and boot-camp incarceration that G.I.s would never have imagined — and 
that Boomers, two decades ago, would have considered fascist. The abortion 
debate rages in deadly earnest, mostly Boom-on-Boom, with shades of first- 
wave pro-choicers against last-wave pro-lifers. Smoking or regular drinking, 
observes New York Times writer Molly O’Neill, are becoming the “new Scarlet 
Letters” among ex-flower children. . When G.I.s were reaching their forties, 
“Buy you a drink?” and “Have a smoke?” were friendly icebreakers between 
strangers; now M.A.D.D.’s Candy Lightner attacks social drinking (and Con- 
gressman Dick Durbin airborne smoking) as dangerous, even immoral. As one 
Boom activist puts it, “There is no such thing as being too rude to a smoker.” 

Now gaining real power, Boomers do not inherently dislike government: The 
idea of using the state to tell people what to do suits them just fine. Their task 
is to redirect public institutions toward what they consider a socially redemptive 
purpose. Casting aside the Silent preoccupation with process and expertise, 
Boomers (when focused) zero in on the essentials, choose between right and 
wrong, and act accordingly. Boomers of all ideological stripes, from Oliver 
North and Fawn Hall to “Animal Rights” lab bombers, can be easily attracted 
to lawlessness in pursuit of a higher purpose. In Washington, D.C., the memory 
of Mitch Snyder beckons social activists to invite arrest “in the name of a just 
and loving God,” while in California “Earth First” eco-saboteurs apply the 
motto “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth.” New York Reverend A1 
Sharpton summons blacks to “bum the city down” over alleged injustices, while 
Shelby Steele calls upon blacks to examine “the content of our character” and 
reject racial preferences as “kindness that kills. ” When Boom-driven movements 
produce legislative enactments — such as Oregon’s refusal to spend Medicaid 
funds on operations considered too expensive or unlikely of success — the budg- 
etary result can be less important than the no-pain-no-gain message to society 
at large. Addressing America’s unmet social needs, from crime and homelessness 
to health and education, Boomers are far more inclined than other generations 
to share Karl Zinsmeister’s view that “genuine compassion demands that we 



314 


GENERATIONS 


forego the comfortable, and ever so easier, responses of softness.” 

Vanguard Boomers show streaks of severity, the desire for not just an enemy’s 
defeat, but his destruction. Confronted with Saddam Hussein, Boomers at the 
Wall Street Journal call on American forces to “take Baghdad and install a 
MacArthur Regency” — and drop hints about war-crimes tribunals. Former Sec- 
retary of the Navy James Webb proposes “ruthless and overpowering” retaliation 
against foreign enemies and suggests constructing a “very large, very primitive 
federal prison in a remote area of Alaska” for drug dealers. As William Bennett 
unjokingly weighs the advantages of beheading underworld kingpins, his peers 
show the strongest generational support for capital punishment. Boomers dom- 
inate the national ranks of the “Fryers Club,” young prosecutors who favor the 
death penalty (and who confer over how to beat older ACLU defense lawyers). 
For other generations, support for the death penalty declines if respondents are 
told to ignore the issue of deterrence — but not for Boomers, who are more likely 
to see execution as moral retribution. 

Boomers are starting to show a fascination for apocalyptic solutions. Unlike 
their G.I. fathers, who excelled at overcoming crisis, Boomers are attracted to 
the possibility of fomenting crisis. Bennett sums up his own approach to gov- 
ernance in two words: “Consequence and Confrontation.” The 47-year-old 
budget director, daring to close down essential federal services if the deficit is 
not reduced, is dubbed “Apocalypse Darman” by the press. In Congress, Newt 
Gingrich promises to use “values” as “a way of dividing America,” while 
Marty Russo refuses to go along with a budget process “that stinks and lies.” 
Silent Congressman Byron Dorgan, speaking for many of his House peers, 
acknowledges how “confrontational” younger colleagues simply “don’t respect 
the old rules and courtesies.” The gathering Boom vision of the future is at once 
dark and bright — with new pronouncements about how denial, even pain, will 
be necessary today to achieve righteousness tomorrow. The Sierra Club’s Dan 
Becker has openly rooted for “especially bad” weather so “a crisis mentality 
can take over” about global warming, while Washington Post sportswriter Tom 
Boswell has asked whether the “purification by fire” of a canceled season might 
be needed to cleanse baseball of greed. James Fallows has declared that “the 
world economy badly needs a few crises” and that America would benefit from 
a “7.0 magnitude diplo-economic shock.” Whatever the problem, the Boom 
prescription is not for a sugar-coated cure, but for a purgative tonic. 

The “sky will first need to fall” before the world wakes up to its environmental 
folly, insisted Boomer columnist Christopher Winner just before Earth Day 1990, 
an event that had a far sterner, less euphoric tone than the original Earth Day 
in 1970. “And when the dead are counted, when pan-global rules prevent further 
murder of air and water and all that which sustains and encourages life, the first 
real Earth Day will bear celebration. ” Winner’s peers, say Collier and Horowitz, 
are “a destructive generation whose work is not over yet.” Peering into the 
future of the Woodstock Generation, Anthony Casale and Philip Lerman see the 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


315 


prospect of “howling cold, danger, and misery.” Yet what some interpret as a 
belligerent pessimism is, in its present chrysalis, a summons to rekindle a prin- 
cipled vision of national (and global) community. In one jurisdiction after an- 
other, Boomers who once voted for Reagan are now starting to push for a more 
explicit exercise of public authority — more taxes, zoning, schools, or prisons — 
so long as this authority moves America toward the lofty social standard that 
Boomers themselves have sanctified. Until that standard is reached, they will 
distrust any path that doesn’t hurt — and they will care less than others about 
how many feel the “howling cold” along the way. 

* * * 

When Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle, “You are no Jack Kennedy,” and 
Howard Metzenbaum said of William Bennett that “he believes words speak 
louder than actions,” those rockets landed on more than just individual targets. 
In the G.I. mind’s eye, you could replace Quayle or Bennett with any of today’s 
45-year-olds, and none of them could match a G.I. doer in his prime. Then 
again, the hubristic Kennedy — the war-hero President of “prestige” and “long 
strides” — was decidedly no Boomer. Nor did his “best and brightest” share 
anything like the common thread of consciousness among Boomers (Jody Powell, 
Hamilton Jordan, David Stockman, Peggy Noonan, Lee Atwater, and Richard 
Darman) who have visited the White House inner circle during the last two 
decades. As Quayle, Bennett, A1 Gore, Bill Bradley, Bob Kerrey, and others 
in their mid-forties threaten to push aside the Silent in the generational succession 
to the Oval Office, their generation already holds one of every four seats in the 
House of Representatives, fills nearly every important office in George Bush’s 
West Wing, and broadly dominates the media — from Hollywood to National 
Public Radio to the editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal . Whatever their 
stripe, Boomers are far less interested in tangible constructions (what Metzen- 
baum calls “actions”) than in establishing a fresh moral regime. 

Offering themselves as the magistrates of this new order, Boomers are stirring 
to defend values (monogamy, thrift, abstention from drugs) other generations 
do not associate with them. Their scorched-earth rhetoric seems misplaced in a 
generation of onetime draft dodgers. Critics can and do call them smug, nar- 
cissistic, self-righteous, intolerant, puritanical. But one commonly heard charge, 
that of “hypocrite,” ill fits a generation that came of age resacralizing and has 
kept at it. Boomers are in no rush. Always the distracted perfectionists, they 
first apply a light hand, then (once they start paying attention) a crushingly heavy 
one. They “graze” on munchies until they figure it’s time to diet, and then they 
don ashes and sackcloth. 

“Oh, how I miss the Revolution,” wrote the (conservative) Boomer columnist 
Benjamin Stein in 1988. “I want the Revolution back.” Seventeen years earlier, 
Charles Reich had prophesied how new Boomer values would someday transform 
civilization “beyond anything in modem history. Beside it,” he bubbled, “a 
mere revolution, such as the French or Russian, seems inconsequential.” Reich 



316 


GENERATIONS 


misperceived the Boom’s readiness to assume power and pandered to its trap- 
pings, but he understood its seriousness of purpose. From Jonathan Schell to 
Jeremy Rifkin, Charles Murray to Alan Keyes, Steven Jobs to Steven Spielberg, 
Boomers are still doing what they have done for decades: giving America its 
leading visionaries and “wise men’’ — or just its preachy didactics — regardless 
of the age bracket they occupy. 

On December 2, 1989, Good Housekeeping magazine published a full-page 
ad in the New York Times, welcoming America to the 1990s, “the Decency 
Decade, the years when the good guys finally win. ... It will be a very good 
decade for the Earth, as New Traditionalists lead an unstoppable environmental 
juggernaut that will change and inspire corporate America, and let us all live 
healthier, more decent lives’’ and “make people look for what is real, what is 
honest, what is quality, what is valued, what is important.” In ways other 
generations partly applaud and partly loathe, Boomers today stand midgame in 
a many-pronged reworking of American society. The righteous fires of People’s 
Park are still smoldering. 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


317 


THIRTEENTH GENERATION 

Bom: 1961-1981 
Type: Reactive 

Age Location: 

Boom Awakening in youth 

In November of 1979, just after an Iranian mob had swarmed into the U.S. 
Embassy in Tehran, a University of Georgia student center gave a special screen- 
ing of the movie Patton. The students gave the film a standing ovation, hanged 
an effigy of the Ayatollah, and then ran through the streets chanting anti-Iran 
slogans. That year, a new breed of college freshman came to America’s cam- 
puses. Previously, faculty members had lined up to introduce themselves. Sud- 
denly, as a Georgetown campus minister put it, “students began lining up to 
introduce themselves to us.’’ Meet the smooth opening wedge of the THIR- 
TEENTH GENERATION — what Washington Post writer Nancy Smith point- 
edly calls “the generation after. Born after 1960, afteryou, after it all happened.’’ 
These were the babies of 1961, 8-year-olds of Woodstock, 13-year-olds of 
Watergate, 18-year-olds of energy crisis and hostage humiliation — and 29-year- 
olds when a 1990 Time cover story defined this generation as post-Boom “twenty- 
somethings.’’ In 1979, just as these kids were making life-pivoting decisions 
about schools and careers, older generations sank into an eighteen-month abyss 
of national pessimism. For Silent parents, Thinking Small was a midlife tonic. 
But never having had their own chance to Think Big, the high school class of 
1979 saw this grim mood very differently. From the Vietnam hysteria to Nixon’s 
“Christmas Without Lights’’ to Three Mile Island — at every turn, these kids 
sensed that adults were simply not in control of themselves or the country. 

Far more than other generations, 13ers feel that the real world is gearing up 
to punish them down the road. Annual polls of high school seniors show that 
those bom just after 1960 came of age much more fearful of national catastrophe 
than those bom just before. These early 1960s babies (as we saw in Chapter 2) 
grew up as the kids whose low test scores and high rates of crime, suicide, and 
substance abuse marked a postwar extreme for American youth. The indicators 
have not improved much for Americans bom in the late 1960s and 1970s. 
Altogether, writes Felicity Barringer in the New York Times , older Americans 
are coming to perceive them as “a lost generation, an army of aging Bart 
Simpsons, possibly armed and dangerous.’’ 

Unlike the Boomer kids-in-jeans of the 1960s, 13ers present, to elder eyes, 
a splintered image of brassy sights, caustic sounds, and cool manner. Moviegoers 



THIRTEENTH GENERATION (Bom 1961 to 1981) 


TYPE: Reactive 

Total number: 93,000,000 
Now alive in U.S.: 79,000,000 
Percent immigrant: 1 1 % 

SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

1961 Michael J. Fox* 

1961 Eddie Murphy 

1962 Jon Bon Jovi 
1962 Roger Clemens 

1962 Tom Cruise 

1963 Tatum O’Neal 
1963 Michael Jordan 
1963 Whitney Houston 

1963 Len Bias (1986) 

1964 Tracy Chapman 

1965 Brooke Shields 

1966 Mike Tyson 

1967 Lisa Bonet 

1967 Jim Abbott 

1968 Mary Lou Retton 
1968 Moon Unit Zappa 
1968 Gary Coleman 
1972 “Tiffany” Darwish 
1972 Samantha Smith (1985) 
1976 Jennifer Capriati 

* = immigrant 


FAMILY TREE 

Typical grandparents: G.I. 

Parents: Silent and Boom 

Children: Millennial (and new Adaptive) 

Typical grandchildren: (new Idealist) 

FUTURE PERIOD of 
POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

Plurality in Congress: 2015-2035 (proj.) 
Term of Presidency: 2020-2040 (proj.) 
Majority of Supreme Court: 2030-2050 
(proj.) 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1961 Princess Di 
1963 Julian Lennon 

1967 Boris Becker 

1968 Wuer Kaixi 

1969 Steffi Graf 


Age 

Date 

0 - 1 

1962 

i 

o 

1965 

0- 7 

1968 

0-12 

1973 

0-18 

1979 

0-19 

1980 

2-22 

1983 

5-25 

1986 

8-28 

1989 

9-29 

1990 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 
U.S. government approves public sale of birth-control pill 
“Baby boom” ends; Supreme Court upholds right to contraceptives 
Rosemary’s Baby begins decade-long popularity of bad-child films 
Roe v. Wade abortion case; Christmas Without Lights 
U.S. hostages seized in Iran; long lines at gas pumps 
Military enlistments surge; youth vote supports Reagan 
A Nation at Risk sharply criticizes students; Grenada invasion 
Schoolchildren watch Challenger shuttle explode on takeoff 
Surge in gang killings, “wilding”; Berlin Wall dismantled 
Rock lyrics censored; U.S. troops go to Persian Gulf 


SAMPLE CULTURAL ENDOWMENTS: Liar’s Poker (Michael Lewis); sex, lies, and 
videotape (film, Steven Soderbergh); Less Than Zero (Bret Easton Ellis); 20 Under 30 (Debra 
Spark); The Dartmouth Review, Slippery When Wet (album, Jon Bon Jovi); Short Sharp 
Shocked (album, Michelle Shocked); Fast Car (song, Tracy Chapman); As Nasty as They 
Wanna Be (album, 2 Live Crew); Think of One (album, Wynton Marsalis); Remote Control 
(MTV); Hangin’ Tough (album, New Kids on the Block); “Too Much Fun” (graffiti art, 
Brett Cook) 




THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


319 


know them as Tom Cruise as Top Gun, breaking a few rules to win; as The 
Breakfast Club, a film about how teachers try to punish a hopeless and incorrigible 
“Brat Pack” of teenagers; as Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape; and 
as Rob Lowe playing the ultimate Bad Influence. In city life, they have become 
America’s kamikaze bicycle messengers, speeding Domino’s and Federal Ex- 
press drivers, murderous inner-city “crack” gangs, computer hackers, and 
would-be novelists — guys who, as John Schwartz (author of Bicycle Days) puts 
it, like to “live a little faster.” In high schools, 13ers are Asian- American 
valedictorians and Westinghouse science finalists, more than half of them im- 
migrants or the children of immigrants. Fresh from college, they are the Yale 
class of 1986, 40 percent of whom applied for investment banking jobs with 
one company (First Boston) — the lucky ones becoming dealmakers who “age 
like dogs” in Michael Lewis’ game of Liars Poker. In athletics, they are young 
Olympians leading chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”, or “Air Jordan” and “Neon 
Deion” Sanders with their “in-your-face” slam dunks and end-zone spikes, or 
one-armed Jim Abbott winning against impossible odds. In the army, 13ers are 
the defenders of Saudi oilfields and the invaders of Panama, whose boom boxes 
may have helped persuade Manuel Noriega to surrender — one of whom said, 
on receiving a warm goodbye from the Panamanians, that “to them it’s every- 
thing, to us it’s just a battle.” 

Older generations see them as frenetic, physical, slippery. Like the music 
many of them listen to, 13ers can appear shocking on the outside, unknowable 
on the inside. Elders find it hard to suppress feelings of disappointment over 
how they are turning out — dismissing them as a “lost,” “ruined,” even 
“wasted” generation in an unrelenting (and mostly unanswered) flurry of what 
Ellen Goodman has termed “youth-bashing.” Disparaging them as the “dumb” 
and “numb generation,” Russell Baker says “today’s youth suffer from herky- 
jerky brain.” Boom evangelists like California’s Larry Lea condemn their soul- 
lessness and have declared “spiritual warfare” on youth “worship of the devil.” 
Under the headline “Hopes of a Gilded Age: Class of 1987 Bypasses Social 
Activism to Aim for Million-Dollar Dreams of Life,” a Washington Post article 
complains how “the fiery concerns of many of their predecessors over peace 
and social justice are mementos from a dimming past.” People magazine has 
coined the phrase “Rettonization of America” to describe how young stars now 
sell their names and reputations to the highest bidder. Boomers are shocked by 
the 13er chemical of choice, steroids (which augment the body and dim the 
mind, just the opposite of Boom-era psychedelics). Sportswriter Bill Mandel 
contemptuously dismisses baseball slugger Jose Canseco as “the perfect athlete” 
for his era — “pumped up bigger than a steer and completely oblivious to the 
vital subtext of his sport.” The Boomer media often portray 13ers as driven 
more by appetites than by ideas — as when Jay Leno tells teenage television 
viewers why they eat Doritos: “We’re not talkin’ brain cells here. We’re talkin’ 
taste buds.” Soft-drink commercials do not show 13ers chanting and swaying 



320 


GENERATIONS 


on some verdant hillside, but instead careening (like Michael J. Fox for Pepsi) 
through some hellhouse and winding up on a pile of junk. “What he needs,” 
said a recent Ad Council caption of a confused-looking teenager, “is a good 
swift kick in the pants.” “This is the thought that wakes me up in the middle 
of the night,” says one Boomer teacher in The Breakfast Club , “that when I 
get older, these kids are gonna take care of me.” “Don’t hold your breath,” 
answers another. 

Every year through the 1980s, new reports of their academic scores have 
triggered harsh elder assessments of their schooling and intelligence. The barrage 
began in 1983 when A Nation at Risk despaired of a “rising tide of mediocrity” 
emerging from America’s schools. Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American 
Mind declared the 13ers’ minds quite closed, and Diane Ravitch and Chester 
Finn’s What Do Seventeen-Year-Olds Know? answered their own question by 
saying, in effect, not much. Grading 13ers collectively in twenty-nine subjects, 
Ravitch and Finn dished out twenty F’s — and no other grade higher than a C - . 
The sympathy and indulgence once offered to low-scoring young Boomers has 
evaporated. Columnist Richard Cohen recently called for “humiliating, embar- 
rassing, mocking — you name it — the dummies who have scored so low on these 
tests.” And “just when you think America’s students can’t get any dumber,” 
reported Jack Anderson in 1989, out comes another book like Steve Allen’s 
Dumbth, or another blue-ribbon report from the Carnegie Foundation, calling 
them “shallow” and chastising their “uncivil speaking” and “deteriorating” 
campus culture (all this in an era of campus calm that would have been the envy 
of any Boom-era dean). Right or wrong, the message sent to 13ers and their 
would-be employers is clear: that these kids got an inferior education and are 
equipped with inferior minds — that they are (to quote one Boomer college pres- 
ident) “junky.” 

Thirteeners find these criticisms overblown. They look upon themselves as 
pragmatic, quick, sharp-eyed, able to step outside themselves to understand the 
game of life as it really gets played. And whatever they are, 13ers insist, they 
have to be. Because of the way they were raised. Because of the world into 
which they are coming of age. To begin with, 13ers see no welcome mat on 
their economic future: Since the mid-1970s, while the costs of setting out in life 
(college tuitions and housing) have raced ahead of inflation, the rewards (salaries 
and fringe benefits for young workers) have steadily fallen behind. They are 
suffering what economist Robert Kuttner describes as a “remarkable generational 
economic disease ... a depression of the young” which makes 13ers feel 
“uniquely thirsty in a sea of affluence.” Money isn’t everything — but 13ers find 
themselves both unprepared for and uninvited to most other avenues of social 
approval. Money means survival, and for a generation whose earliest life ex- 
periences have taught them not to crust others, survival must come first. 

Older critics seldom acknowledge the odd twists that have so far plagued the 
13er lifecycle. In the early 1970s, Norman Lear produced All in the Family- 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


321 


style television shows that bred child cynicism about the competence of the adult 
world — then, in the late 1980s, Lear’s “People for the American Way” lobby 
whipsawed the grown-up kids thus nurtured with a stinging report rebuking their 
“apathy and disengagement from the political process.” When 13ers were en- 
tering school, they heard gurus (like Charles Rathbone) say there was “no single 
indispensable body of knowledge that every child should know,” so their schools 
didn’t teach it — then, upon finishing school, they heard new gurus (like E. D. 
Hirsch, in Cultural Literacy ) say yes, there was such knowledge, and they hadn’t 
learned it. Thirteeners were told, as Rathbone (and many others) had urged, to 
be “self-reliant, independent, self-actualizing individuals.” So they learned to 
watch adults carefully and emulate how they behave — collectively resembling 
Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon , the kind of kids adults have a hard time finding 
adorable. 

Imagine coming to a beach at the very end of a long summer of big crowds 
and wild goings-on. The beach bunch is sunburned, the sand shopworn, hot, 
and full of debris — no place for walking barefoot. You step on a bottle, and 
some cop cites you for littering. That’s how 13ers feel, following the Boom. 
Much like River Phoenix in the film Running on Empty , first-wave 13ers have 
had to cope and survive in whatever territory the Boom has left behind, at each 
phase of life. Their early access to self-expression and independence stripped 
them of much of the pleasure of discovery and rebellion — leaving them, in Bret 
Easton Ellis’ words, “looking up from the asphalt and being blinded by the 
sun.” By the time Ellis’ peers came of age, the symbolic meanings — of sex, 
drugs, student rights, whatever — had all faded. What they found, instead, were 
the harsh realities of social pathology. One by one, 13ers have slowed or reversed 
these trends — the SAT decline, the youth crime, the substance abuse, the early 
sex — but 13ers have felt the full brunt of them and have borne the ensuing adult 
criticism. 

Thirteeners, not Boomers, were America’s true “children of the 1960s.” 
And, especially, the 1970s. An awakening era that seemed euphoric to young 
adults was, to them, a nightmare of self-immersed parents, disintegrating homes, 
schools with conflicting missions, confused leaders, a culture shifting from G 
to R ratings, new public-health dangers, and a “Me Decade” economy that 
tipped toward the organized old and away from the voiceless young. “Grow up 
fast” was the adult message. That they did, graduating early to “young adult” 
realism in literature and film, and turning into what American Demographics 
magazine has termed “proto-adults” in their early teens (where, two decades 
earlier, Boomers had lingered in “post-adolescence” well into their twenties). 
At every phase of life, 13ers have encountered a world of more punishing 
consequence than anything their Silent or Boom elders ever knew. Consider the 
13ers’ matter-of-fact approach to sexuality, yet another trait that has brought 
adult complaint. First- wavers were just reaching puberty when adults were emit- 
ting highly charged sexual signals in all directions. At the time, sex education 



322 


GENERATIONS 


was unabashedly value-neutral, empty houses provided easy try sting spots, and 
their parents were, as Ellen Goodman describes them, “equally uncomfortable 
with notions that sex is evil and sex is groovy.” With adults having removed 
attitudinal barriers against the libido, 13ers have begun re-erecting age-old de- 
fense mechanisms: platonic relationships, group dating, and a youth culture 
(reminiscent of Lost-era street life) in which kids watch out for their own safety 
and for the physical integrity of their own circle of friends. Unlike Boomers, 
13ers are coming of age knowing where the youth euphoria of the late 1960s 
actually led. As Redlands College’s Kim Blum puts it, “the sexual revolution 
is over, and everybody lost.” 

The 13er lifecycle experience has, so far, been the direct inverse of the Silent. 
Where the Silent passed through childhood in an era of parental suffocation and 
entered young adulthood just as barriers to youth freedom began to loosen, 13ers 
have faced exactly the opposite trend. Where the Silent grew up with a childlike 
awe of powerful elders, 13ers have acquired an adultlike fatalism about the 
weakness and uncertainty of elders — and question their ability to protect the 
young from future danger. When the first Silent were children, America was in 
the skids of depression, but by their twentieth birthday, public confidence was 
vast and rising. When the first 13ers were bom, America was riding high and 
G.I. leaders seemed to be achieving everything at once — but then, as they reached 
adolescence, the nation mired itself in doubt. The Silent emerged from their 
storybook childhood hoping to add some nuance and subtlety to a culture they 
found oversimple. Thirteeners, by contrast, are growing up in what teacher and 
author Patrick Welsh describes as “a world of information overload.” Hearing 
others declare everything too complex for yes-or-no answers, 13ers struggle to 
filter out noise, cut through rhetoric, and isolate the handful of practical truths 
that really matter. Also unlike the homogeneous young Silent, 13ers are coming 
of age with sharply diverging personal circumstances (what an economist would 
call a “spreading bell curve”) in education, family economics, and career op- 
portunities. Where their parents once struggled to break free from a tight gen- 
erational center of gravity, 13ers wonder if they will ever be able to find one. 

Confronted with these facts of life, 13ers have built a powerful survival 
instinct, wrapped around an ethos of personal determinism. In their world, what 
a person is, what he looks like, and whether or not he succeeds depend less on 
what a person is inside than on how he behaves. Thirteeners are constantly told 
that whatever bad things strike people their age — from AIDS to drug addiction, 
from suicides to homicides — are mainly their own fault. In this sort of youth 
environment, staying alert to the physical is an assertion of virtue. Unlike Boom- 
ers at like age, a low-income 13er probably comes from a world of splintered 
families and general hopelessness — and has little in common with some “Richie 
Rich” out in the suburbs. And so kids feel obliged to dress up (at an age when 
most Boomers dressed down) to preserve a sense of personal honor and to avoid 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


323 


being “disrespected” in a real-life game of king of the mountain. 

Doing what they feel they must, knowing it brings adult criticism, 13ers have 
come to accept, even to take a perverse fun in, what a young rapper would call 
“attitude,” in being “BAAAAD.” They tend to agree with their elders that, 
probably, they are a wasted bunch. From the standpoint of an individual 13er, 
weak peer competition isn’t such bad news. Their own cultural artifacts make 
half-comic reference to their own garbagey quality. Chris Kreski, the 26-year- 
old lead writer for Remote Control, a 1 3er-designed TV-quiz-show parody, 
admits his show is “stupid.” (In 13er lingo, words like “stupid,” “bad,” or 
“random” are words of praise.) The Bon Jovi song You Give Love a Bad Name 
became an instant hit among the teens of the 1980s. In 1990, when a think tank 
issued yet another negative report on 13ers (documenting their “massive cheat- 
ing, resume fraud, assaults on teachers, venereal disease, pregnancies, and ma- 
terialism”), its authors afterward remarked that 13ers themselves seemed to 
agree with these findings. In River s Edge , a film evoking how many 13ers look 
at life, one teenager mockingly says to his buddies, “You young people are a 
disgrace to all living things, to plants even. You shouldn’t even be seen in the 
same room as a cactus.” 

As they struggle to preserve what optimism and self-esteem they can, 13ers 
have developed what psychologist David Elkind calls the “patchwork self.” 
Two decades ago, older generations saw great promise in youth. Not now — not 
these youths, anyway. As first- wavers find themselves elbowed aside by Boomers 
seemingly at every turn, last-wavers lock their radars onto Nintendo in fantasized 
quest of fortune or death, or join the Spurtlegurgles in singing the lyric of a 
missionless childhood (“We’re here because we’re here because we’re here 
because we’re here”). “So many things have already happened in the world 
that we can’t possibly come up with anything else,” explains 15-year-old David 
Peters, a fast-food worker in California. “So why even live?” No other gen- 
eration in living memory has come of age with such a sense of social distance — 
of adults doing so little for them and expecting so little from them. 

Lacking the ego strength to set agendas for others, 13ers instead react to the 
world as they find it. They’re proud of their ability to poke through the hype 
and the detail, to understand older people far better (they sense) than older people 
understand them. They take solace in the privacy that affords them. Many even 
delight in the most demeaning images of youth ever crafted by the electronic 
media: Max Headroom, beheaded in an accident, imprisoned within TV sound 
bites; the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, flushed down the toilet as children, 
deformed by radiation, nurtured on junk food; and Bart Simpson, the “under- 
achiever” whose creator likens him to everyone’s “disgusting little brother” — 
the “little Spike-Head” whom William Bennett says he’ll “straighten out” with 
“a couple of soap sandwiches.” Beyond low self-esteem and blighted minds, 
what these pop icons all have in common is that they were created and promoted 



324 


GENERATIONS 


by Boomers — the 13ers’ principal nemeses. Some day, some way, 13ers would 
love to get those Boomers on life’s equivalent of Remote Control , swivel their 
yuppie chairs around, and dump them in a vat of greenish goo. 

“My generation was bom on Friday the Thirteenth,’’ insists Bowdoin Col- 
lege’s Gregg Linburg. “That’s a day you can view two ways. You can fear it, 
or you can face it — and try to make it a great day in spite of the label. That’s 
what my generation is going to do.’’ Counting back to the Awakeners, Linburg ’s 
peers are, in point of fact, the thirteenth to call themselves American citizens. 
Demographers have so far given them a name at once incorrect and insulting: 
“baby busters.’’ Population is not the issue. Thirteeners outnumber Boomers 
by ten million in 1990, a gap widening by the year, and their first- wave (1961— 
1964) cohorts are among the biggest ever. “Baby bust’’ theorists see in the name 
some new youth advantage in a world of easing youth competition — but try 
telling that to collegians bom in the smallish late- 1960s cohorts. Yet the worst 
aspect of this “bust’’ nomer, and why 13ers resent it, is how it plants today’s 
25-year-olds squarely where they don’t want to be: in the shadow of the “boom,” 
and negatively so — as though wonder has been followed by disappointment. 

To young Americans uninterested in labels — to those who still remain what 
Shann Nix calls “the generation with no name’’ — we assign a number: thirteen. 
The tag is a little Halloweenish, like the clothes they wear — and slippery, like 
their culture. It’s a name they can see as a gauntlet, a challenge, an obstacle to 
be overcome. The thirteenth card can be the ace, face down, in a game of high- 
stakes blackjack. Kings and queens, with their pompous poses and fancy cur- 
licues, always lose to the uncluttered ace, going over or going under. The ace — 
like this generation — is nothing subtle, but it’s nice to have around when you’re 
in a jam. 


13er Facts 

• The 13th is the most aborted generation in American history. After rising 

sharply during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the abortion rate climbed by 
another 80 percent during the first six years ( 1 973 to 1 979) after the Supreme 
Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Through the birthyears of last-wave 13ers, 
would-be mothers aborted one fetus in three. 

• Parental divorce has struck 13ers harder than any other American generation. 

In 1962, half of all adult women believed that parents in bad marriages 
should stay together for the sake of the children; by 1980, only one in five 
thought so. A 13er child in the 1980s faced twice the risk of parental divorce 
as a Boomer child in the mid-1960s — and three times the risk a Silent child 
faced back in 1950. Four-fifths of today’s divorced adults profess to being 
happier afterward, but a majority of their children feel otherwise. 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


325 


• No other American generation has ever grown up in families of such com- 

plexity. In 1980, just 56 percent of all dependent children lived with two 
once-married parents, another 14 percent with at least one previously mar- 
ried parent, 1 1 percent with a stepparent, and 19 percent with one parent. 
One in five had half siblings. The likelihood of children receiving support 
payments from the noncustodial parent declined from the Boomer to 13er 
childhood eras. 

• No other child generation has witnessed such a dramatic increase in domestic 

dissatisfaction (and surge to the workplace) on the part of mothers. Between 
1960 and 1980, among mothers with children aged 5 or under, the proportion 
with full- or part-time jobs rose from 20 to 47 percent. Through the 1970s, 
the number of “latchkey” children under age 14 left alone after school 
roughly doubled. 

• A late- 1980s survey of “teen trendsetters” found 48 percent describing their 

(mostly Silent) parents as “cool” — versus just 7 percent as “strict” and 1 
percent as “nosy.” According to youth marketer and pollster Irma Zandl, 
13ers associate lack of parental authority with family instability. Observes 
Zandl, “Eve never heard any teenager say, ‘I wish my father were more 
sensitive.’ ” 

• When they first reached high school, 13ers encountered much less of the 

teacher-and- voter indulgence that had greeted their next-elders. The Boom- 
era grade inflation came to an abrupt end: Youths bom in 1961 received 
10 percent fewer high school A’s and 10 percent more C’s than those bom 
in 1960. At the ballot-box, first- wave 13ers were the targets of the late- 
1970s “Proposition 13” school-tax revolts in California and other states. 
Similarly, during the decade after 1978 (that is, after the last Boomers had 
reached age 18), the purchasing power of both the child-poverty benefit and 
the federal minimum wage declined steeply and continuously. 

• A sampling of teachers who taught Boomers in the mid-1960s and 13ers in 

the mid-1980s was asked to compare the two, in forty-three measures of 
aptitude and achievement. The score: Boomers 38, 13ers 4, with one tie. 
The teachers scored Boomers higher in all academic skills, communications 
ability, and commitment to learning. Thirteeners outscored Boomers in 
negotiating skills, consumer awareness, adult-interaction skills, and “de- 
fenses to prevent extreme dependency on parents or authorities.” 

• The 1 3th is on its way to becoming the first generation since the Gilded to be 

less college-educated than its next-elders. College completion rates, seven 
years after high school graduation, fell from 58 percent for the Boomer 
Class of 1972 to 37 percent for the 13er Class of 1980. Meanwhile, the 
economic stakes of higher education have risen sharply. From 1973 to 1986, 



326 


GENERATIONS 


the average' inflation-adjusted earnings of young college graduates fell by 
6 percent — but for young high school dropouts, they fell by 42 percent. 

• By a two-to-one majority, 13er men prefer military to civilian public service — 

in a sharp turnaround from the Boom youth era. Starting when the first 13er 
cohort reached age 19, the armed forces began a dramatic three-year rise 
in the quality of new enlistees. Thirteeners are the best-educated generation 
of soldiers in American history. 

• Much like Michael J. Fox in Family Ties (the conservative kid of liberal 

parents), these are by far the most Republican-leaning youths in the sixty- 
year history of age-based polling. From Boom to 13th, the partisan tone of 
young voters has shifted strikingly — from roughly a ten-point Democratic 
advantage to a Republican edge that, in 1985, reached eighteen points (52 
percent to 34 percent). In fifteen of sixteen consecutive polls taken between 
1981 and 1988, 13ers gave Ronald Reagan a higher approval rating than 
any other generation — except the Lost. 

• Thirteener teenagers face a much lower risk of dying from disease than did 

Silent teenagers forty years ago. But this 13er advantage has been almost 
entirely offset by a much higher risk of dying from accidents, murder, and 
suicide. Roughly 2,000 minors were murdered in 1988 — twice the number 
killed in 1965 (a year of urban riots when America had 6.5 million more 
youths under age 18). Homicide is now the dominant cause of youth mor- 
tality in America’s inner cities. Among black males 15 to 24 years old 
living in Washington, D.C., murder accounted for 47 percent of all deaths 
in 1987. 

• Fear is a pervasive reality within a generation of urban schoolchildren that 

brings an estimated 135,000 guns (and six times as many knives) to the 
classroom each day. Eight percent of urban seventh to twelfth graders say 
they miss at least one day of school per month because they are physically 
afraid to go. At the same time, 13ers learn young that the only way to cope 
with fear is not to show it. Says Bronx junior-high teacher Klaus Bomemann: 
“The kid who demonstrates fear is raw meat.” 

• As teenagers, 13ers are committing suicide more frequently than any generation 

since the Lost. In 1976, the child suicide rate rose above the previous 
record, set in 1908, Through the 1980s, roughly 5,000 children under age 
18 committed suicide each year, the largest number and proportion ever 
recorded for that age bracket. 

• Already, 13ers have become the most heavily incarcerated generation in Amer- 

ican history. From Boom to 13th, the proportion of youths in jail rose by 
roughly one-third — for whites and blacks, women and men. The average 
length of a sentence has risen by 12 percent during the first half-dozen years 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


327 


in which 13ers have entered the adult criminal justice system. In 1990 (when 
13ers attained a majority of the U.S. prison population), one in every four 
black men between the ages of 20 and 29 was in jail, on probation, or on 
parole. 

• The decade of the 1970s brought a steep decline in the economic fortunes of 

children. From the 1950s through the early 1970s, the over-65 age bracket 
showed the highest poverty rate; since 1974, the under- 18 bracket has shown 
the highest. Thus, the distinction of occupying America’s poorest age 
bracket passed directly from Lost to 13th without ever touching G.I. , Silent, 
or Boom along the way. Roughly one 13er in five now lives in poverty. 
At the same time, 13ers report the most negative generational attitude toward 
welfare spending — and two-thirds believe that if they ever end up unem- 
ployed, it’s their own fault. 

• Through the 1980s, the 13ers’ economic distress has moved right up the age 

ladder with them. In 1967, male wage earners in their early twenties made 
74 percent as much as older males; by 1988, that ratio had fallen to 54 
percent. Between 1973 and 1988, the median income of households headed 
by persons under age 25 (adjusted for inflation and family size) fell by 18 
percent. The negative trend was not confined to unmarried 13er mothers; 
even among married couples with children, the median income fell by 17 
percent. 

• From the 1960s to the 1980s, the proportion of household heads age 18 to 24 

owning their own homes fell by one-third — the steepest decline for any age 
bracket. In 1990, three out of four young men that age were still living at 
home, the largest proportion since the Great Depression. 

• During the 13er childhood era, America has substantially shifted the federal 

fiscal burden from the old to the young. Since 1972, older generations have 
deferred paying for some $2 trillion in current consumption through addi- 
tional U.S. Treasury debt — a policy five times more expensive (in lifetime 
interest costs) for the average 15-year-old than for the average 65-year-old. 
Federal tax policy has shifted in the same direction. In 1990, according to 
the House Ways and Means Committtee, a young 13er couple with one 
worker, a baby, and $30,000 in wage income had to pay five times as much 
($5,055 in taxes) as the typical retired G.I. couple with the same income 
from public and private pensions ($1,073 in taxes). 

• Before 13ers came along, postwar sociologists generally assumed that hard- 

ening cynicism was a function of advancing age. No longer. From 1965 to 
1990, the share of all Americans under age 35 who look at a newspaper 
daily declined from two-thirds to less than one-third — by far the steepest 
drop of any age bracket. In a late- 1980s survey of “Cynical Americans,’’ 



328 


GENERATIONS 


researchers noted that “the biggest surprise” was how “cynicism now seems 
to defy the traditional partnership of youth and idealism.” Today, cynicism 
is “hitting hardest among young adolescents — more than half of those age 
24 and under. . . . They think it’s all bull.” 


The 13er Lifecycle 

YOUTH: The years of the “Consciousness Revolution” were among the 
most virulently anti-child periods in American history, producing a childhood 
world Tom Cruise recalls as “kind of scattered.” Sacrificing one’s own career 
or conjugal happiness became passe — even, by the logic of the era, bad for kids 
themselves. As the 1960s wore on, Silent mothers and fathers increasingly looked 
at their children as hindrances to self-exploration. By the 1970s, they cast an 
envious eye at young Boomers — who then mainly looked upon babies like 
headaches, things you take pills not to have. Adults ranked autos ahead of 
children as necessary for “the good life,” and the cost of raising a child (never 
much at issue when Boomers were bom) became a hot topic. A flurry of popular 
books chronicled the resentment, despair, and physical discomfort women were 
said to endure when bearing and raising 13er children. In Ourselves and Our 
Children (whose priorities revealed themselves in the juxtaposition of its title), 
“consider yourself ’ ’ was ranked ahead of “benefiting our children” as a principle 
of sound parenting. Popular parental guides emphasized why-to-dos over what- 
to-dos, concluding that doing the right thing was less important than parent and 
child each feeling the right thing. To accomplish that, authors like Thomas 
Gordon (in Parental Effectiveness Training) advised parents to teach children to 
understand behavioral consequences at very young ages. Popular books by 
T. Berry Brazelton and Burton White stressed the determinism of the early 
childhood years, suggesting that a child’s lifetime personality might be substan- 
tially sealed by the time he entered school. As Marie Winn would later note, 
“early-childhood determinism appeared to be a gift from gods” for parents with 
new wanderlust or careerism who could thereby conclude that their 6- or 10- 
year-old children could cope with family trauma well enough, given how care- 
fully they had been tended as tots. 

Divorce, and its attendant confusion and impoverishment, became the central 
fear of the 13er childhood world. In It’s Not the End of the World , Judy Blume 
offered children the tale of a once-happy family disintegrating amid shouting, 
slapping, and crying. Hearing these messages, even kids in stable families felt 
vulnerable and reacted by hardening their shells against adversity. While parents 
tried to persuade themselves (like Kyle Pruett in The Nurturing Father: Journey 
Toward the Complete Man) that family dissolution “freed” parent and child to 
have “better” and “less constricted” time together, these kids saw things dif- 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


329 


ferently. (Asked about his own divorced dad, Breakfast Club actor Anthony 
Michael Hall said: “No comment, but yes, he lives.”) Thirteeners knew that 
where Boomers had been once worth the parental sacrifice of prolonging an 
unhappy marriage, they were not. Coping with the debris, America’s 1970s-era 
children went from a family culture of My Three Sons to one of My Two Dads , 
encountering step-thises, half-thats, significant others, and strangers at the break- 
fast table beyond what any other child generation ever knew. Reading Norma 
Klein’s It’s OK If You Don’t Love Me, a child could ponder the fate of an 
adolescent girl who juggled a sex life with two boyfriends while sorting through 
her feelings about her mother’s lover, her mother’s former second husband, and 
her father’s second wife and their two children. 

“The parent is usually a coordinator without voice or authority,” observed 
Kenneth Keniston in 1977, noting how the moms and dads of that decade “hardly 
ever have ... the power to make others listen to them.” In homes, schools, and 
courtrooms, America’s style of nurturing children completed a two-decade pas- 
sage from Father Knows Best to the tone of self-doubt in Bill Cosby’s Father- 
hood: “Was I making a mistake now? If so, it would just be mistake number 
nine thousand seven hundred and sixty-three.” Alvin Poussaint noted the dom- 
inant media image of the parent as “pal,” who was “always understanding; 
they never get very angry. There are no boundaries or limits set. Parents are 
shown as bungling, not in charge, floundering as much as the children.” This 
was not inadvertent. Parents who admit to being “many-dimensioned, imperfect 
human beings,” reassured the authors of Ourselves and Our Children, “are able 
to give children a more realistic picture of what being a person is all about.” 
On the one hand, Silent parents were, like Cosby’s Cliff Huxtable, gentle and 
communicative; on the other hand, they expressed ambivalence where children 
sought clear moral answers, abandoned a positive vision of the future, and 
required children to respond very young to sophisticated real-world problems. 
Like father and son in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, adults became more 
childlike and children more adultlike. 

Through the 1970s, the media reinforced the growing view among children 
that adults were not especially virtuous, competent, or powerful. Adult life held 
no secrets. From TV sit-coms to “breakthrough” youth books, older generations 
made little effort to shield children from any topic, no matter what the effect on 
a child’s sense of security and comfort. “I hate the idea that you should always 
protect children,” wrote Judy Blume in defense of her books. “They live in the 
same world we do.” Mad magazine’s A1 Feldstein put it more bluntly: “We 
told them there’s a lot of garbage out in the world and you’ve got to be aware 
of it.” One “Self-Care Guide” for latchkey children advised kids of “ways you 
can protect yourself from mugging and assault: Always pay attention to what is 
happening around you when you are on the street.” And so 13ers were delib- 
erately encouraged to react to life as you would hack through a jungle: Keep 
your eyes open, expect the worst, and handle it on your own. 



330 


GENERATIONS 


APPROACHING RISING ADULTHOOD: Even as first wavers reach 
their late twenties, this generation cannot be said to have 4 ‘come of age. ’ ’ Nothing 
yet cements them emotionally. To date, the 13th remains a splintery generation; 
people can (and do) find almost anything they want in these kids. Far more than 
older generations, 13ers come with myriads of regional subgroups and ethnic 
minicultures, each thinking its own thoughts, listening to its own music, laying 
its own plans, and paying little heed to each other. Yet the first signs of bonding 
are beginning to appear — a common alienation visible in 13er art and writing, 
and in their growing awareness of their own economic vulnerability. “Sure we’re 
alienated,’’ admits American University student Daniel Ralph. “But who 
wouldn’t be, in our shoes?’’ 

Thirteeners are coming to realize that they bear much of the burden for the 
Reagan-era prosperity that so enriched the Silent and G.I.s. In inner cities, their 
impoverishment has caused adult alarm; elsewhere, it has been less noticed, 
thanks to a veneer of family-subsidized teen affluence. Even in the suburbs, 
13ers entering the labor force are bearing much of their nation’s new burden of 
foreign competition and debt. In industries where productivity is stagnant, two- 
tier wage systems hold elders harmless while making the new hires bear the full 
cost-cutting burden. Where foreign investors bid up the price of real estate, 
current homeowners profit, but would-be young homebuyers pay. Even as the 
1980s-era spurt of tax reform lowered the tax rate on high-bracket incomes, 
FICA taxes on after-school wages kept going up. 

Spurred by a sense of economic need, youths are working younger, longer, 
later at night, and at more dangerous jobs than any child generation since the 
Lost. As federal administrators chart the steady rise in child labor law violations, 
13ers carefully hone their survivalist ethic. Two-thirds believe they will have to 
work harder than earlier generations simply to enjoy the same standard of living. 
After leaving school, 13ers face tough choices made all the more frustrating by 
the adult wealth they see around them. Scanning her life’s options, one Wash- 
ington, D.C., youth complained: “The way society presents it, I’ll either be 
strung out on drugs, a manager at McDonald’s, or a lawyer.’’ Something re- 
sembling her middle course is the most frequent path, as many find themselves 
doing the low- wage counter, delivery, and cleaning jobs Boomers have always 
found demeaning — the “McJobs’’ that Amitai Etzioni describes as “more time- 
consuming, less character-building’’ than what talented youths used to look 
forward to. In most professions — law, medicine, business, the media — 13ers 
are encountering less promising promotion paths than the Boom knew at their 
age, and a smaller likelihood of ever getting a second chance if they fail the 
first time. 

So far, they have concealed their plight thanks to the distinctly 13er habit of 
calling as little attention as possible to what they are feeling. In life, as when 
they walk down the street with their Walkmen and designer shades, they know 
how to keep others from knowing what they’re hearing, watching, or thinking. 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


331 


They leave their troubles behind when they come to work — and take their minds 
off the job when they leave. Boomer bosses like ad executive Penny Erikson 
see them as “not driven from within,” best suited for “short-term tasks” and 
in need of “reinforcement from above.” Ask 13ers how they’re doing, and as 
long as life stays reasonably patched together, “No problem” is their answer. 
They have learned to adjust by moving quickly into and (when they see a dead 
end) out of jobs. They look for quick strikes ahead of long-term promises, the 
Wall Street Journal describing them as “more willing to gamble their careers 
than . . . earlier generations.” Often, their best chance for success comes from 
striking out on their own, finding a small market niche, and filling it more 
cheaply and sensibly than older-run businesses — following the example of such 
twenty-fiveish entrepreneurs as David Montague (folding bicycles) or Doug 
Wadsworth (plastics recycling). But for every Darryl Strawberry who hits the 
jackpot, untold others don’t. And those who don’t run smack into their deter- 
ministic ethos — that failure means something must be wrong with you. A rising 
number are masking their economic problems by “boomeranging” back into 
the parental house after a few years of trying to make it on their own. 

Having no place to “boomerang” to, inner-city 13ers inhabit an especially 
grim world that does not like them, does not want them, and (as they see it) has 
nothing to offer them. “There’s a growing malaise that young people suffer 
from,” observes Victor Herbert, director of New York City high schools. “They 
feel they’re not to be trusted, they’re not good people, and they don’t have to 
follow whatever inhibitions have been built up, especially when they’re moving 
in a crowd.” Urban kids have begun reacting with a nihilism that older gener- 
ations consider proof of their worthless ruin. A new, reactionary style of sexism, 
racism, and soulless violence has seeped into 13er-penned song lyrics. As “Ice- 
T” raps about “bitches,” young thugs commit what elders call “hate crimes” 
targeted against gays, women, and high-achieving ethnic groups. A new breed 
of young criminal shows a remorseless bent toward killing and maiming for no 
serious reason. Prizefighter Mike Tyson has admitted to having “shot at a lot 
of people. ... I liked to see them run. I liked to see them beg.” Where Boomer 
youths who assaulted Silent victims were said to have mitigating reasons for 
their antisocial behavior, 13ers who attack Boomer victims (as in the Bernhard 
Goetz and the Central Park jogger cases) are condemned, in the Boom-led media, 
as “evil” thugs deserving only of execution or, at best, a stiff term in some 
boot-camp prison. Back in the late 1960s, Boomer crime was associated with 
rage and betrayed expectations; today, the young 13er criminal strikes elders as 
emotionally detached — even insensible. William Raspberry accuses them of 
being a “generation of animals,” Stanton Samenow of having “the ability to 
shut off their conscience.” The kids themselves invented the word “wilding” 
to describe their behavior. Asked why his friends go wilding, one New York 
City youth explained, “Sometimes they do it for fun, sometimes they do it for 
money, sometimes they just do it.” 



332 


GENERATIONS 


“We can arrest them, but jail is no deterrent,” reports Washington Long, 
chief of police in Albany, Georgia. “I’ve had kids tell me, ‘Hell, I ain’t got 
nowhere else to go nohow.’ ” “For them, it’s just a matter of fact,” agrees 
Washington, D.C., police chief Isaac Fulwood. “Oftentimes, they don’t say 
anything. They just sit there and say, ‘Officer, do what you gotta do’ ” — like 
the 16-year-old “wilder” Yusef Salaam, who asked his sentencing judge to 
“Give me the max.” (He got it.) As Terry Williams describes it in Cocaine 
Kids, what is new about 13er criminals is their all-business attitude: their use 
of calculated violence to protect inventory (smugglers), market share (competing 
gangs), customer service (safe houses), accounts receivable (addicts), employee 
relations (runners), and risk management (cops). A young drug-runner, says 
Fulwood, “navigates in a world where most of us couldn’t function, a world 
where you’ve got to be cunning, slick, and mentally and physically tough.” 
And, of course, a world in which other choices seem even more hopeless. “I 
got no plans I ain’t going nowhere,” sings Tracy Chapman, “So take your fast 
car and keep on driving.” 

“When you get beneath the surface of their cheerfulness,” observes Chris- 
topher Lasch, “young people in the suburbs are just as hopeless as those in the 
ghetto . . . living in a state of almost unbearable, though mostly inarticulate, 
agony. They experience the world only as a source of pleasure and pain.” Like 
a whole generation of Breakfast Clubbers, 13ers face a Boom-driven culture 
quick to criticize or punish them but slow to take the time to find out what’s 
really going on in their lives. By one count, their ranks include a half-million 
family “throwaways” — a word coined just for them. A generation of self- 
perceived throwaways might as well take a few risks. Punkers who blast their 
ears with boom boxes know what they’re doing. “They tell me it will hurt me 
down the line,” explains one 20-year-old Ohioan with a deafening sound system 
in his car, “but I don’t care. I’m young and stupid, I guess.” Thirteeners know 
life holds no special favors, for them at least. “I keep hearing this is the best 
time of our lives,” says Harvard student Mandy Silber. “And I wonder — is it 
all downhill?” Where the Silent and Boom at like age had every reason to expect 
someday to nestle into law partnerships, tenured professorships, and seats on 
the stock exchange, 13ers see very clearly the dead-end traps of a “McJobs” 
economy. American Demographics predicts that the five fastest-growing job 
fields of the early 1990s will be cashiers, nurses, janitors and maids, waiters 
and waitresses, and truck drivers. Anytime they see others celebrate (or mor- 
alize), 13ers watch their wallets — believing, as in the Bangles lyric, “Trouble 
is, you can’t believe that it’s true/When the sun goes down, there’s something 
left for you.” 

In Less Than Zero, an Ellis novel touted by its publisher as heralding a “New 
Lost” generation, two youths have this exchange: “Where are we going?” “I 
don’t know, just driving.” “But this road doesn’t go anywhere.” “That doesn’t 
matter.” “What does?” “Just that we’re on it, dude.” Hemingway and Fitz- 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


333 


gerald would have liked these kids, so open-eyed behind those Ray-Ban Wayfarer 
sunglasses. “Prewar,” Scotty would have called them. Not yet lost, but traveling 
down that road. 

* * * 

Late in 1989, as East German students poured over the Berlin Wall, a Wash- 
ington Post article described high school kids as “left flat” and “utterly un- 
moved” by events that brought their teachers tears of joy. The youth attitude 
that strikes elders as blase is, from the 13er perspective, unflinching and realistic. 
They have already tramped through the dirty beach where idealism can lead. 
Remembering how the “freedom” of open classrooms produced noisy chaos 
and gave them what others constantly tell them was a bad education, they have 
learned to be skeptical about what happens whenever barriers are broken down. 
Maybe there will be new wars, maybe bad economic news — at the very least 
new competition. These kids were less surprised than their teachers when Iraq 
shattered the post-Cold War peace. American campuses were hardly fazed — 
Berkeley freshman Charles Connolly speaking for many when he said, “I think 
we should go in there and take care of it, full throttle.” Meanwhile, thousands 
of Connolly’s peers throttled off in uniform to keep oil flowing from Saudi 
Arabia to the big American homes and cars that so few 13ers can ever imagine 
buying at the same age their parents did. Where the Korean War once featured 
hardboiled, Trumanesque elders and sensitive, A/*A*S*//*-like juniors, the Per- 
sian Gulf crisis features the opposite. Silent 60-year-olds assume the complex, 
polysyllabic tasks: satellite communications, multilateral negotiations, peace- 
process evaluations. Thirteener 20-year-olds prepare for the brute, one-syllable 
jobs: sweat, hide, move, hit, and kill. 

Amid his Silent peers’ euphoria over the end of the Cold War, pollster Peter 
Hart published a highly critical report about “Democracy’s Next Generation,” 
noting that only 12 percent of them mentioned voting as an attribute of good 
citizenship. Then again, 48 percent mentioned personal generosity. Having 
grown up in an age of anti-institutional feeling, 13ers look at it this way: When 
you vote, maybe you’ll waste your time — or, worse, later feel tricked. But when 
you do something real, like bringing food to the homeless, you do something 
that matters, if only on a small scale. The president of MIT has likened the 13er 
civic attitude to that of the Lone Ranger: Do a good deed, leave a silver bullet, 
and move on. 

In The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman observes that when 13ers 
were little, adults gave children “answers to questions they never asked.” That 
problem still plagues this generation — except now the questions are, in effect, 
what made you the way you are, and how can we fix it? Blue-ribbon Silent 
committeemen (like Paul Volcker) anguish over how to change their attitude 
about government, and inner-city Boomers (like Washington, D.C., health com- 
missioner Reed Tuckson) “look internally” to understand “how we produced 
these children.” But 13ers consider such efforts a waste of time and energy. 



334 


GENERATIONS 


From their angle, there’s the temptation to play Max Headroom and say a 
computer-programmed “I’m sorry-sorry.” Mostly, they figure such talk is point- 
less — like aspiring opera singer Marie Xaviere, who says that “even if you 
didn’t want us, you made us. But we’re here, and we’re going to make the best 
of it.” They know they are a generation without an elder-perceived mission. 
Yet “in spite of all the criticism and generally low expectations,” Daniel Ralph 
insists his generation “will make a difference.” What 13ers ask of others, maybe 
hopelessly, is to lend an unjaundiced ear and check out what Nancy Smith calls 
“our ‘attitude,’ a coolness, a detachment . . . and the way we speak: ironic, flip, 
uncommitted, a question mark at the end of every other sentence.” “Dial into 
our style,” invites Miles Orkin in his essay “Mucho Slingage by the Pool.” 
“It’s not like some fully bent tongue from hell or anything.” 

Their elders don’t yet see it, 13ers themselves only dimly sense it, but this 
streetwise generation does indeed bring a bag of savvy tricks their elders lack — 
skills that may come in handy the next time America gets into real trouble. More 
than anyone, they have developed a seasoned talent for getting the most out of 
a bad hand. Take note, Beaver Cleaver: Thirteeners may never have glimpsed 
Nirvana, but they know how to win. 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


335 


MILLENNIAL GENERATION 

Bom: 1982- 
Type: Civic (?) 

In September of 1988 at Burrville Elementary in Washington, D.C., 5- and 
6-year-old children arrived for their first day of kindergarten wearing brand-new 
green-and-yellow coats and ties, blouses and dresses. If Boomer school board 
member Nate Bush gets his way, these kids will wear school-issued clothes all 
the way through high school, like it or not: “Parents are going to have to exercise 
their authority and say, I’m the parent, you’re the child, and this is a good 
idea. ’ ’ A year later, having seen Japanese children in trim blue uniforms, Boomer 
author James Fallows suggested their use in America “to promote some sense 
of purpose and fellow-feeling at school.’’ At Burrville Elementary, 13ers in older 
grades found the uniforms slightly humiliating, but the younger kids hardly 
seemed to mind. These kids in green coats and yellow blouses are the vanguard 
of America’s MILLENNIAL GENERATION. Cute. Cheerful. Scoutlike. 
Wanted. Not since the 1910s, when midlife Missionaries dressed child G.I.s in 
Boy Scout brown, have adults seen such advantage in making kids look alike 
and work together. Not since the early 1900s have older generations moved so 
quickly to assert greater adult dominion over the world of childhood — and to 
implant civic virtue in a new crop of youngsters. 

Even the timing of this new generation is historic. Its birthyears will stretch 
to and probably just beyond the year 2000, the end of the second millennium. 
As the 1990s begin, the year 2000 is becoming a national target date, much like 
the 1969 deadline President Kennedy once set for landing a man on the moon — 
except this time, the goal aims at the nurture of what some are calling a “new 
generation’’ whose excellence Americans hope to celebrate when the Millennium 
arrives. In 1990, the nation’s governors set an ambitious agenda of educational 
goals for the year 2000, including a 90 percent high school graduation rate for 
the “Class of 2000.’’ President Bush agreed, promising that by the year 2000 
“U.S. students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achieve- 
ment.” Also in 1990, investigations into child labor practices found violations 
at an all-time high, prompting some reformers to set the year 2000 as a goal for 
removing children from dangerous and exploitive jobs and pushing them back 
into school and family life. Former Surgeon General Everett Koop has declared 
the nation’s determination to produce the “smoke-free high school Class of 
2000.” And a Washington, D.C., group describing itself as “Concerned Black 
Men” has launched “Project 2000” to provide “young black boys with con- 
sistent, positive, and literate black role models” in time for the Millennium. 



336 


GENERATIONS 




MILLENNIAL GENERATION (Born 1982 to ?) 

TYPE: Civic (?) 

FAMILY TREE 

Projected number: 76,000,000 

Typical grandparents: Silent 

Now alive in U.S.: 33,000,000 

Parents: Boom and Thirteenth 

Percent immigrant: 12% 

Children: (new Adaptive and new Idealist) 




Typical grandchildren: (new Reactive) 

SAMPLE MEMBERS, birth (death) 

FUTURE PERIOD of 




POLITICAL LEADERSHIP 

1982 

Hilary Morgan 

Plurality in Congress: 2035-2060 (proj.) 

1982 

Dooney Waters 

Term of Presidency: 2040-2065 (proj.) 

c. 1983 

Cecilia Chichan 

Majority of Supreme Court: 2050-2075 

c. 1983 

Jebbie Bush 

(proj.) 

1985 

Jessica McClure 


1985 

Tabatha Foster (1988) 

PROMINENT FOREIGN PEERS 

1987 

“Baby M’’ 

1982 Prince William 

Age 

Date 


HISTORY and LIFECYCLE 

0-0 

1982 

“Class of 2000“ bom; flurry of books demand protection for children 

0-1 

1983 

Cute-baby movie trend begins 

0-2 

1984 

Time cover story proclaiming “The End of the Sexual Revolution” 

0-3 

1985 

U.S. becomes debtor nation; crying-baby antideficit ads 

0-5 

1987 

“Everybody’s Baby” 

Jessica McClure rescued; Baby “M” case 

0-6 

1988 

Surge in “cocooning, 

” celebrity pregnancies, school uniforms 

0-7 

1989 

Webster case limits Roe v. Wade; antidrug crusade grows 

0-8 

1990 

Educational goals set for the year 2000; first Children’s Summit at UN 




THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


337 


Fueling this adult mission toward the Millennial generation is palpable (mainly 
Boom) disappointment in how the 13th is turning out, and second thoughts about 
how 13ers were raised. “I’m sorry to say it,” observed federal judge Vincent 
Femia in 1989, “but we’ve lost a generation of youth to the war on drugs. We 
have to start with the younger group, concentrate on the kindergartners.” The 
circa- 1990 preoccupation with “drugs” reflects a broader anxiety about harms 
that were done and should not be repeated. In a 1990 Atlantic cover story, 
Boomer Karl Zinsmeister suggests “preventing young criminals from infecting 
a class of successors” by “putting the full weight of public protection on the 
side of babies and schoolchildren.” Though “it may be too late to save the ‘me 
first’ generation from the folly of the new feudalism,” notes former New York 
mayor Edward Koch (also in 1990), a “new generation” could be provided “the 
experience of working successfully with others.” In films like Parenthood , the 
Boom culture has drawn a striking contrast between hardened teenage 13ers and 
cute Millennial “Babies on Board.” 

First- wave Millennials are riding a powerful crest of protective concern, dating 
back to the early 1980s, over the American childhood environment. In 1981, 
the year before the “Class of 2000” was bom, a volley of books assaulted adult 
mistreatment of children through the 13er birthyears ( Children Without Child- 
hood , The Disappearance of Childhood, Our Endangered Children, All Grown 
Up and No Place to Go). Within the next couple of years, other authors began 
reconsidering the human consequences of divorce, latchkey households, and 
value-neutral education. In 1984, two kids-as-devils movies ( Children of the 
Corn, Fire starter) flopped at the box office, marking the end of a dying genre — 
and the start of a more positive film depiction of children. Through the mid- 
1980s, studios released several child-as-victim movies (The Shining, Cujo ), and 
in the late 1980s, cuddly-baby movies (Raising Arizona , Three Men and a Baby , 
Baby Boom, For Keeps, She' s Having a Baby). The new cinematic children 
began helping adults — not, like film 13ers, by sharing parental burdens, but by 
reminding parents to cope with life more responsibly on their own. From 1986 
to 1988, polls reported a tripling in the popularity of “staying home with family.” 
From Jane Pauley’s twins to Bruce Willis’ Lamaze class, the Boom’s media 
elite reinforced the new interest in infant nurture. By 1988, babies were declared 
a “fad” by the San Francisco Chronicle, “the new lovers” in the New York 
Times. 

The changing tone of the popular culture coincided with the ebbing of the 
Consciousness Revolution in the early 1980s. First- wave Millennials arrived in 
an America awash in moral confidence but in institutional disrepair. Some social 
changes (deferred marriage, smallish dual-income households) became uncon- 
troversial facts of American life, while others (“open” marriages, mind-altering 
drugs) were rejected. The rates of abortion, voluntary sterilization, and divorce 
either plateaued or reversed. A few legislators began criticizing the antichild 
policy consensus — from unchecked growth in federal borrowing to dwindling 



338 


GENERATIONS 


health benefits for impoverished mothers. In 1985, while the Grace Corporation 
sponsored TV public service ads linking the national debt with a crying baby, 
Congressman John Porter blasted huge budget deficits as “fiscal child abuse.” 
In 1988, Forbes magazine ran a cover story entitled “Cry, Baby: The Inter- 
generational Transfer of Wealth,” a new KIDS-PAC lobby was formed around 
children’s interests, and child care surged ahead of foreign policy as the issue 
of most concern to voters. In 1989, while federal attorneys were filing the first- 
ever lawsuit against apartment units that banned children, George Bush admitted 
he was “haunted” by the plight of inner-city children and pointed with hope to 
the straight-arrow example of one crack-house child — 7-year-old Dooney 
Waters. 

“The ’60s Generation, Once High on Drugs, Warns Its Children,” headlined 
the Wall Street Journal in 1990. As parents, teachers, and prosecutors, forty ish 
Boomers are setting about to protect children from the social and chemical residue 
of the euphoric awakening they themselves had launched a quarter century earlier. 
At dinner tables around the nation, 40-year-old parents are telling small children 
to stay away from drugs, alcohol, AIDS, teen pregnancy, profanity, TV ads, 
unchaperoned gatherings, and socially aggressive dress or manners. Likewise, 
at press conferences, 40-year-old political candidates are trying to persuade the 
public that although maybe they did experiment a little with drugs, they never 
really enjoyed it. While Tipper Gore battles lurid rock lyrics, Michigan’s “mother 
lion,” Terry Rakolta, campaigns against sex and violence on prime-time tele- 
vision, and Barbie’s doll band changes from the old “Rockers” to the cleaned- 
up “Sensations.” Grown-up Boomer radicals who once delighted in shocking 
their own moms and dads now surprise themselves with their own strictly per- 
fectionist approach to child nurture. In growing numbers, fathers are demanding 
“daddy-track” work schedules that allow them more time at home to raise their 
young children. Garry Trudeau, father to young twins, drew a Doonesbury strip 
that showed a Boomer proudly explaining that he had raised his girl “like an 
Asian child ... by teaching her the value of discipline, hard work, and respect 
for others.” 

In general, Boomer parents are determined to set an unerringly wholesome 
environment for their Millennial tots. Where Silent parents had brought 13er 
kids along to see R-rated movies made about them, Boomers take their Millen- 
nial to see G-rated movies made for them. Where the old 13er Willy Wonka- 
style movies had stressed individualism and differences among kids, the new 
Boom-produced films (An American Tail , Oliver and Company , The Land Before 
Time ) stress civic virtues: equality, optimism, cooperation, and community. 
Where the Disney animation studios laid off cartoonists during the 13er era, 
they began replenishing their staffs during the Millennial era — and now employ 
more artists than at any time since the 1937 production of Snow White. Boom 
scriptwriters are crafting plots with stronger moral lessons and less ambivalent 
messages about drugs, alcohol, and teenage sex. In the late 1980s, even the 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


339 


bellwether Cosby Show shifted focus. Mom and dad Huxtable became less pally 
and more in charge — making punishments stick, and telling little Rudy “you’re 
too young” to do this or know about that. Meanwhile, evangelical Boomers are 
taking Dr. Dobson’s advice in Dare to Discipline. 

Not since the Teddy Roosevelt-era furor over runaway streetcars have adults 
made such serious efforts to take danger out of the child’s daily life. In 1990, 
New Yorkers expressed deeper anger over nine stray-bullet killings of small 
children than they had ever felt about the much larger number of murders among 
teenage 13ers. In the safer suburbs, a wide assortment of new child-safety devices 
has recently swamped the market — including the Gerber drawer latches, stove 
knob covers, furniture comer cushions, toilet locks, I-See-U car mirrors, and 
Kiddie Kap bicycle helmets (all displayed in a “Perfectly Safe” catalogue). The 
1980s decade began with states passing laws requiring infant restraints in au- 
tomobiles; the decade ended with talk of requiring infant restraints in commercial 
airplanes — and (in Howard County, Maryland) with the nation’s first-ever bicycle 
helmet law. 

Ever so gradually, adults of all ages are rediscovering an affection and sense 
of public responsibility for other people’s children. Back in the 1970s, the Boom’s 
“Big Chill” gatherings were all-adult affairs. During the 1980s, they started 
including babies, then small children, and now bigger children. Infant and toddler 
seats began appearing in restaurants that had never before had them. In 1987, 
the whole nation anxiously followed the fate of little girls in distress: “Every- 
body’s Baby,” 18-month-old Jessica McClure, saved after being trapped for two 
days in an abandoned well in Lubbock, Texas; 2-year-old Tabatha Foster, whose 
five organ transplants were made possible by $350,000 in public donations (much 
of it from celebrities); and 4-year-old Cecilia Chichan, the sole survivor rescued 
from the crash of Northwest Flight 255 in Detroit. 

This new generation of children is being treated as precious — often, more 
precious than their parents. A judge in Washington, D.C., recently sentenced a 
pregnant first-time drug offender to jail for the explicit reason that her behavior 
put her unborn child at risk. Where the media once urged parents to allow their 
13er children plenty of room for self-discovery, adult society (in the media, 
legislatures, and courts) is now prodding parents to control the child environment 
and is enforcing its intention with tough new laws that make parents civilly or 
criminally liable for their children’s misbehavior. Commenting on a new Cali- 
fornia law that incriminates parents for gang vices committed by children, Ellen 
Goodman observes that lawmakers have “turned the Bible on its head. . . . 
They’ve decided that the sins of the sons shall be visited upon the parents.” For 
the first time in living memory, calls are rising for special orphanages, “acade- 
mies,” and Boys Towns for small children whose (mostly 13er) parents are 
deemed socially unfit — places in which William Bennett says children “will be 
raised and nurtured” under “strong rules and strong principles.” Where 13er 
kids were best known as latchkeys, throwaways, boomerangs, and other terms 



340 


GENERATIONS 


implying that adults would just as soon have them disappear, Millennial have 
so far been perceived very differently — as kids whom adults wish to guard with 
dutiful care. During the two most famous custody battles of the 1980s, newspaper 
stories focused less on the parents than on the children: New Jersey’s “Baby 
M’’ and the District of Columbia’s Hilary Morgan. Two decades ago, such baby 
stories would have seemed bizarre beyond comprehension. Today they attract 
intense nationwide concern. 

As Hilary’s peers reach school age, public education is moving toward “new 
traditionalism,’’ values, and greater adult assertiveness. Kindergartens have be- 
come more academic, and elementary schools are stressing “good works’’ — an 
emphasis on helping out with family and neighborhood chores. Sex education 
now includes calls for continence, replacing what had earlier been a carefully 
nonjudgmental, value-neutral approach. In a series of censorship and search- 
and-seizure cases, the G. I. -dominated U.S. Supreme Court has reversed a 
two-decade trend toward student rights and strengthened the hand of school 
disciplinarians. As Boomers replace Silent as parents and teachers, public schools 
have started to earn higher approval ratings in public polls. Teachers are rising 
in public esteem (and pay), and PTAs are flourishing with new membership and 
purpose. What Chester Finn calls “a seismic shock’’ has gripped the adult mood 
toward education, with sharply increasing support for more homework, longer 
school days, toughened graduation requirements, greater parental involvement 
in classrooms, and a nationally standardized curriculum. No way will perfec- 
tionist Boomer parents let their tots reach age 17 unable to pass the Ravitch- 
Finn history and literature test. 

Boom parents and teachers have also been slowing down the childhood de- 
velopment clock — unlike the Silent, who sped it up. From 1976 through 1988, 
the proportion of students held back in elementary school jumped by one-third. 
In 1989, roughly one of every five kindergarten-eligible children were deliber- 
ately kept in preschool programs. The sale of Gesell Test materials, used for 
determining a child’s kindergarten readiness, jumped 67 percent between 1984 
and 1987. Meanwhile, publishers of children’s literature have reversed the 13er- 
era emphasis on rushing readers to more sophisticated subject matter. Parents 
now read babylike cloth and cardboard books to Millennial children — books 
that, when 13ers were little, had to be imported from Europe if they could be 
found at all. New story lines (like Oak Tree’s Value Tales) focus less on family 
problems than on family virtues. 

If the circa- 1990 nurturing trends please the Boom, they are in effect a 
repudiation of the way in which many Silent raised their own kids. “Drown the 
Berenstain Bears’’ became Boomer Charles Krauthammer’s cry against youth 
literature that celebrates the parent as pal. At school board and PTA meetings, 
Boom parents in their thirties often chastise the elder Silent for their permis- 
siveness. Where the Silent would rather give kids complete information and then 
let them make up their own minds, Boomers are more inclined to establish firm 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


341 


rules, reinforced by adult supervision and careful attention to any transgressions. 
In angry answer to suggestions that the answer to drugs lies in more information 
about them, William Bennett said of little crack-house Dooney: “This child does 
not need drug education. That child needs protection, that child needs order, 
and that child needs love.” Goodman acknowledges that “we are now seeing 
various attempts to put parents in charge, to shore up authority, to foster at least 
the image and maybe the reality of a traditional family unit.” Many wonder if 
the offspring of such families will develop the openmindedness we now take for 
granted in children. “What they’re learning is that life is black and white,” 
observes columnist Anna Quindlen, without hearing “the long version of answers 
to life’s questions” and without gaining “a measure of empathy and understand- 
ing to shade the primary colors of censure.” Admitting that today’s third and 
fourth graders “seem more evolved young citizens than we were” at that age, 
Quindlen sees them assimilating society’s “Shalt Nots” about crime, drugs, 
pollution, and education with disquieting energy and unanimity. 

The Millennial show every sign of being a generation of trends — toward 
improved education and health care, strengthening families, more adult affection 
and protection, and a rising sense that youths need a national mission. A two- 
decade animus against children, of course, cannot reverse itself overnight. Polls 
in the mid-1980s still showed adults more self- than child-focused in behavior, 
though less so than a decade earlier. Divorce and abortion rates are stuck at high 
levels, if down a bit from their early- 1980s peak. Thirteeners are delaying 
parenthood even more than Boomers at like age, but are showing a greater 
commitment to making marriages last. Sex, violence, and alcohol and cigarette 
advertising in the media remain accessible to small children, though the pro- 
portion of R-rated films has been falling and the standards for PG ratings have 
stiffened. American elementary schools are still underfunded in comparison with 
those of other developed nations, but tax revolts against their fiscal base are 
gradually cooling off. Massive federal budget deficits continue, albeit with more 
evidence of adult guilt over the burdens they will someday impose on today’s 
children. Overall, the arguments of those who stress more values, more structure, 
and more protection in the child’s world are strengthening, from one year to the 
next, while the arguments of those who disagree are losing ground. 


Millennial Facts 


• First-wave Millennial, bom after the great 1960s and 1970s plunge in Amer- 
ican fertility rates, have the lowest child-to-parent ratio in American history. 
They arrived at a time when only 2 percent of all kids under age 18 live 
in families with five or more kids — just one-fourth the proportion of first- 
wave 13ers. 



342 


GENERATIONS 


• In contrast to 13ers — and despite their small number per family — Millennial 

babies frequently arrive to parents who want them desperately. The abortion 
rate peaked in 1980 and has since shown a gradual decline. Infertility treat- 
ment and “preemie” (premature infant) care have become two of the fastest- 
growing fields in medicine. From 1986 to 1988, the number of infertility- 
related doctor visits quadrupled. In 1970, a two-pound baby had only a 5 
percent chance of living; in 1990, 90 percent survive — at an average cost 
of over $100,000 per child. 

• The early 1980s marked a decisive turnaround in public attitudes toward public 

schools: the beginning of “quality education” as a political issue; the first 
year most parents approved of the performance of their local school districts; 
and the first of seven straight years in which teacher salaries increased faster 
than inflation — after seven straight earlier years of real salary decline. 

• The poverty rate for children under six peaked in 1983 (at 24.6 percent) and 

thereafter has gradually declined. The U.S. divorce rate peaked in 1981; 
the homicide rate against children age 1-4 peaked in 1982. 

• Since 1983, an increasing share of children below the poverty line have been 

made eligible for Medicaid assistance. In 1990, despite pressure to reduce 
federal spending, Congress expanded Medicaid to cover all poor children 
under age 18 by the year 2001 — starting with everyone bom after September 
30, 1983, upon reaching 6 years of age. (No 13ers need apply.) 

• According to national surveys, the per capita savings rate for children age 4 

to 12 held steady at about 15 percent from 1968 to 1984 — but by 1989 it 
had risen sharply, to over 30 percent. In the early 1980s, kids that age saved 
only one-third as much as they spent on candy, soft drinks, and snacks. 
Today, with the encouragement of their parents, they save more than they 
spend on convenience food. Over the last decade, the proportion of child 
income coming from allowances (rather than job earnings) has risen steadily. 


* * * 

“Only Eight Years Old,” headlines an ad in a 1990 issue of the Atlantic , 
“And He's Teaching Me About Science!” Twenty years ago, such an ad would 
not have appeared. Or, if it had, no one would have believed it. Now we do. 
Boomer moms and dads are setting out to produce kids who are smart and 
powerful and dutiful — kids possessed of rational minds, a positive attitude, and 
selfless team virtue. Someday, Boomers hope, Millennials will build according 
to great ideals their parents can only envision, act on vital issues their parents 
can only ponder. These children are not being raised to explore the inner world 
(Boomers figure they can handle that arena just fine), but instead to achieve and 
excel at the outer. 



THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


343 


Each day, we see dreams and wonder reappear in adult chatter about these 
little citizens just now learning to walk, talk, and read. In 1988, NASA official 
Thomas Paine predicted that “the first Martians are already bom and toddling 
around somewhere here on earth.” Others speculate that these smart preschoolers 
might grow up to be great scientists who can solve the riddle of cancer, great 
engineers who can protect the environment, and great producers who can put 
an end to world hunger. If they do, a girl bom today can expect to live, on 
average, into her nineties. That will take her beyond the year 2080, past Amer- 
ica’s Tricentennial. As Mom and Dad gaze into baby’s big beautiful eyes, they 
wonder — we all wonder — what those eyes will someday see. 




Part III 

The Future 








Chapter 12 

THE PAST 
AS PROLOGUE 


ii r ~y' 

A omorrow Is Another Day.” “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” The glim- 
mering Futurama at the 1939 New York’s World Fair. “There’ll Be Bluebirds 
over the White Cliffs of Dover.” During the turning-point years of 1937-1943, 
in the midst of a CRISIS ERA, these messages reflected how Americans of all 
ages looked at the future. People felt hope, determination, and total consensus 
about where society should go; toward material abundance (millions of cars and 
shoes) and spiritual simplicity (home and apple pie). It was all within reach, but 
conditioned on a struggle everyone knew would demand total unity from all, 
total sacrifice from some. There was little debate about right and wrong, only 
about how to get the job done. Americans looked to elders for strategic vision, 
to midlifers for tactical means, and to rising adults for selfless muscle. All those 
who today remember this mood — this sense of all-encompassing urgency suf- 
fused with childlike innocence — wonder why it has proved so hard to rekindle. 

Such moods do not arrive often. But they do arrive from time to time. On 
three earlier occasions Americans have experienced a similar feeling: in the 
1680s, in the 1770s, and (briefly) around 1860. On each of these occasions, 
Americans braced for a raging storm, urging one another not to lose hope that 
the sun would shine afterward. 

Moving forward a couple of decades, we can see what the future looked like 
in an OUTER-DRIVEN ERA. Here we find Tomorrowland, a 1950s image of 
a friendly future: moving sidewalks, soft-hued geometric shapes, futuristic Mu- 


347 



348 


GENERATIONS 


zak, and smiling, well-scrubbed families. In Disney’s Carousel of Progress, the 
“progress” remains fixed, while the “carousel” (what moves) is the audience, 
sitting in chairs and watching household life get predictably easier, cleaner, and 
more scientific. Laying out the years to come with all the confident linearity of 
a monorail, Tomorrowland had what the “crisis” future didn’t: specificity and 
certainty. Yet it also lacked urgency, moral direction, and hope — and today’s 
visitor to the G.I.-Jetson household finds it about as warm as push-button trans- 
mission. We sense much the same when we visit the Smithsonian Institution’s 
Hall of Machines, full of huge, perfectly engineered turbines from the 1876 
Centennial Exposition (the mechanical future of the midlife Gilded). Or when 
we page through the geometrical street plans for the District of Columbia and 
the countless square townships drafted around 1800 (the Palladian future of 
midlife Republicans). Or when we read the circa- 17 10 poetic odes to flax and 
shipping (the worker-bee future of midlife Glorious). During each of these eras, 
Americans looked into the future and saw Tomorrowland: secure, tangible, 
comfortable, under control — and distressingly spirit-dead. 

Moving forward yet another cycle notch, we arrive in an AWAKENING 
ERA — and encounter a sudden discontinuity. Sometime between the mid-1960s 
and the early 1970s, the American vision of the future shifted from Tomorrowland 
to Pepperland. Erector-set affluence was now a ghastly material cancer, publicly 
disdained and privately taken for granted. Of course we got to the moon (so 
Americans thought). In another decade, we would be exploring the outer planets, 
and in another four or five, shuttlecrafting to Alpha Centauri. But all that out 
there felt trivial compared to what people felt in here. Americans searched for 
soul over science, meanings over things. They explored an inner future without 
dates or chronology — a euphoric experience, celebrated by coming-of-age 
youngsters who sensed the Millennium (Childhood' s End) in what seemed like 
total holocaust for everything their elders had built (Soy lent Green). Where have 
we seen Pepperland before? Try Greenwich Village around 1900. Or the New 
England communes of the 1840s. Or the Connecticut Valley in the late 1730s. 
Or the Puritan flagship Arabella in 1630. “I see a new heaven and a new earth,” 
cried Jonathan Edwards 250 years ago. Looking toward the future, so have many 
Americans during each of these eras. 

A final step forward lands us roughly in the mid-1990s, somewhere near the 
middle of an INNER-DRIVEN ERA. To understand how the future will look 
then, we can reflect on where the mood has been heading over the last several 
years. According to most 1980s-era opinion polls, Americans of all ages emerged 
from their “Consciousness Revolution” feeling terrific about their personal, 
inner lives — but never so worried about the disintegrating foundations of their 
social, outer world. By 1990, people came to share a disquieting sense of 
fragmenting community, of eroding public purpose, of institutions that no longer 
function, of mounting financial and environmental liabilities that must someday 



THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


349 


fall due. Three or four decades ago, we knew we could do everything but worried 
we could no longer feel anything. Today we sense the reverse. Once again, this 
mood is nothing new. Recall America on the eve of World War I, steeping in 
inward satisfaction just when a floodtide of crime, boozing, immigrants, and 
political corruption threatened to wipe all ‘"decency” off the continent. Or 
America around 1850, building moral confidence but helpless in the face of 
implacable sectionalism that (too soon) would trigger war. Or the colonies in 
the early 1750s, rejuvenated with spirit but reeling from violence, mobs, insur- 
rections, and imperial machinations beyond anyone’s control. 

These four visions of the future are all component pieces of a broader social 
mood that accompanies our four successive constellational eras: AWAKENING, 
INNER-DRIVEN, CRISIS, and OUTER-DRIVEN. In each era, the mood is 
determined by the unique combination of different generational types at each 
stage of life. Recognize the Awakening mood of the 1970s? We can’t imagine 
it without “square” Civics entering elderhood, “spoiled” Idealists coming of 
age, and sensitive, passage-prone Adaptives sandwiched in between. How about 
the Crisis mood of the 1930s? Unthinkable without Civics and Idealists in re- 
versed positions, and (this time) gritty Reactives sandwiched in between. 

Drawing on the American experience, this chapter examines what these pat- 
terns say about how the social mood changes, how generations mature, and how 
the generational cycle helps or hurts the future. 

Cycles and futures are not supposed to be a happy mix. When Americans 
talk of generations, they like to associate them with hopes for progress — in 
particular, with the American Dream that each successive generation will fare 
better over time. The very concept of a historical cycle may seem to threaten 
these hopes and this dream. If history runs in circles, after all, how can it move 
forward? As the generational biographies have shown, however, our cycle is 
perfectly compatible with the progress of civilization by any standard normally 
used to measure it — material, spiritual, social, or cultural. All the cycle explains 
is when and why different generations apply different standards in working 
toward progress. Wherever we use the word “cycle,” the reader may if he 
wishes replace it with “spiral,” with all the opportunity and danger implicit in 
that word. A spiral turns in a circle while at the same time moving upward — 
or downward. 

Our cycle (or spiral) may offer more reason to be optimistic about the future 
than the conventional linear view of history. Consider, for example, the per- 
spective of many of today’s elder G.I.s, who came of age during the Great 
Depression and who tend to measure the American Dream by Civic mile- 
stones: public order, community purpose, friendly neighborhoods, dutiful fam- 
ilies, benign science, and a rapidly ascending standard of living. Take those 
milestones, assess the trends of the past two or three decades, and reflect on 
what a linear view of history would conclude about America’s future. Now that’s 



350 


GENERATIONS 


pessimism. But a cycle offers hope. It suggests, as we have just seen, that the 
standards by which Americans measure progress shift from one era to the next — 
from material to spiritual, from community improvement to self-perfection, from 
basic survival to civilized refinement — and then back again. As the Missionary 
historian James Truslow Adams bravely wrote during the dark hours of the Great 
Depression, the American Dream gives every youth “the chance to grow into 
something bigger and finer, as bigger and finer appeared to him.” So too for 
every new generation. 

One lesson of the cycle is that every generational type has its own special 
vision of the American Dream. Each type can fare well or badly in fulfilling 
that vision. Likewise, each can leave gifts — or harms — to its heirs. We call 
these “generational endowments.” Looking to the cycle, we can see important 
differences in the endowments each generational type gives to the future. 

To appreciate the connection between generations and progress, we need to 
build paradigms — first of the four constellational moods, and then of the peer 
personality and lifecycle of each generational type. 


The Cycle of Constellational Moods: A Paradigm 

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Despite 
George Santayana’s warning, many fundamentals of history do seem to repeat 
no matter how much we try to remember and learn from them. Indeed, were 
history purely random, it would be less important — and remembering it would 
be pointless. Most of us, however, sense that history does leave telltale traces 
of a certain regularity, that we can learn from parallels between the culture, 
fashions, politics — or simply the moods — of different periods. 

To identify some of these parallels, let’s begin by lining up all the constel- 
lational eras in American history. There have been as many of these — eighteen — 
as there have been generations. In Chapter 2, we defined each era as a generation- 
long birthyear period preceding each aligned constellation (which occurs in the 
year the last cohort of each new generation is bom). We display these eras in 
Figure 12-1. Notice how the Civil War Cycle had only three eras (including an 
abbreviated combination of Inner-Driven and Crisis eras), just as it had only 
three generational types. 

Since a constellational era typically lasts about twenty-two years, a four-era 
cycle lasts roughly eighty to one hundred years, or about the lifespan of a long- 
lived individual. To calibrate the duration of America’s five cycles, in fact, we 
might compare them with five Idealist lifespans laid end-to-end. Consider the 
sequential lives of Simon BradstreeJ (1603-1697), Benjamin Franklin (1706- 
1790), Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945), and Albert 
Gore, Jr. (1948- ). Each of these individuals has witnessed (or in the last case 



THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


351 


FIGURE 12-1 

Constellational Eras, 

Dated by Generational Birthyears 


CYCLE 

AWAKENING 

ERA 

INNER- 

DRIVEN 

ERA 

CRISIS 

ERA 

OUTER- 

DRIVEN 

ERA 

PRE-COLONIAL: 

COLONIAL: 

Puritan 

Religious 

Glorious 

Elizabethan 

Renaissance 

1584-1614 

Age of 


Awakening 

Intolerance 

Revolution 

Enlightenment 


1615-1647 

1648-1673 

1674-1700 

1701-1723 

REVOLUTIONARY: 

Great 

French and 

American 

Era of Good 


Awakening 

Indian War 

Revolution 

Feeling 


1724-1741 

1742-1766 

1767-1791 

1792-1821 

CIVIL WAR: 

Transcendental 


Civil 

Reconstruction, 


Awakening 

1822-1842 

1843 

War 

1859 

Gilded Age 
1860-1882 

GREAT POWER: 

Missionary 

World War I, 

Depression, 

Superpower 


Awakening 

Prohibition 

World War II 

America 


1883-1900 

1901-1924 

1925-1942 

1943-1960 

MILLENNIAL: 

Boom 

Awakening 

1961-1981 

1982- 




can expect to witness) each constellational era at some point in his or her life. 
A similar end-to-end exercise could be performed with notable members of other 
generational types with the same result. Everyone who lives a normal lifespan 
experiences every constellational era once. Of course, each type witnesses each 
era from a different phase-of-life perspective. Idealists, for example, see an 
Awakening era as rising adults and a Crisis era in elderhood, while Civics see 
these two periods from a reversed perspective. Again, we notice how age location 
governs the two-way interaction between generations and history. 

Associated with each type of era is a paradigmatic mood. But what are these 



352 


GENERATIONS 


moods, and how do we identify them amid the noise of history? How can we 
say that the mood in the 1950s, for example, was anything like the mood in the 
1870s — or, for that matter, in the 1710s? 

To identify a mood, we must first strip away the cumulative shape of civi- 
lization that every constellation largely inherits from the past — such as affluence, 
technology, basic social mores and cultural norms, and established political 
institutions. We must also strip away the chance events and the passing fashions, 
language, and mannerisms through which a mood expresses itself. Again, it may 
help to envision a “spiral,” where the direction of the spiral indicates the 
cumulative progress — or, if it happens, decline — of civilization, and where the 
random perturbations in the spiral indicate era-specific events. What remains — 
the circle of constellational moods — is driven by the repeating overlap of gen- 
erational types. 

Popular music offers a lively illustration of how cyclical recurrences can be 
distinguished from linear trends. Clearly, over the past century and a half, we 
can map out a steady improvement in the technology and marketing of music. 
Progressives came of age with live ballads and marches performed largely by 
professionals. Missionaries brought home the first widely marketed song sheets 
for home piano play. The Lost enjoyed the first Victrolas, with cylindrical 
records. G.I.s bought the first 78s for songs broadcast on AM radio. The Silent 
listened to stereos with 33-rpm LPs. Boomers played cassettes in their cars 
and popularized FM radio. Thirteeners love their compact disks. Today’s elec- 
tronics industry is abuzz with talk of the new digital technology that awaits 
Millennial teenagers. Yet over this same period, behind the linear improvement, 
popular music has reflected the mood of each new era and the type of each new 
peer personality. Over the Great Power Cycle, the most memorable Missionary 
songs were spirituals and blues, soulful and angry; the Lost had jazz, improvised 
and naughty; the G.I. invented big-band swing, standardized and upbeat; and 
the Silent had folk and rock, subversive and infused with social conscience. So 
far in the Millennial cycle, that pattern has repeated — with Boomer music in ward- 
seeking and tinged with fury (adding the “acid” and “Jesus” to rock) and 13er 
music punkish, prankish, and diverse. 

When we look at history this way, searching for basic patterns in social 
behavior, we can spot several that coincide with the constellational eras. Figure 
12-2 lists them. 

Some of the trends shown in Figure 12-2 resist quantification. “Attitude 
toward institutions” obviously cannot be measured. Few historians would dis- 
agree, however, that prevailing attitudes toward government and family in 1740 
and 1975 (especially among rising adults) represent an opposite extreme from 
the prevailing attitudes in 1700 and 1940. Take your choice: the frenzied bonfires 
of young John Davenport or the crisp “Family Well-Ordered” essays of young 
Cotton Mather; the hippies of Wheeler Ranch or the Seabees of Guadalcanal. 
Other trends can be quantified, at least partially. A growing tolerance for personal 



THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


353 


risk, for instance, usually results in more criminal behavior. The historical record 
suggests that rates of crime (or public complaints about crime) have risen steeply 
during every Awakening era since the 1730s and have reached cyclical highs 
during every Inner-Driven era since the late 1740s. “It seems to be now become 
dangerous for the good people of this town to go out late at night without being 
sufficiently well armed,” commented the New York Gazette in 1749. So have 
many New Yorkers told each other in the 1840s, the 1910s — and, yes, the 
1980s. 

Several major social indicators generally track the cycle shown in Figure 
12-2. For example: 

• Rates of substance abuse tend to rise steeply during an Awakening era, peak 

near its end, and then fall after last- wave Idealists finish coming of age (and 
first- wave Idealists enter midlife). The sharpest alcohol-consumption turn- 
around in American history occurred in the late 1830s (the end of the 
Transcendental Awakening), followed by a further decline in the 1840s. 
The second-sharpest occurred between 1900 and 1910 (the end of the Mis- 
sionary Awakening), followed by a further decline during Prohibition. More 
recently, per capita alcohol consumption began accelerating around 1960, 
peaked around 1980 (the end of the Boom Awakening), and has lately been 
falling. For mind-altering drugs, from opiates to hallucinogens, the pattern 
is much the same. Each time, young Idealists get most of the euphoria 
while society looks on indulgently, after which young Reactives get most 
of the blame when society begins cracking down. Commenting on this long- 
term cycle, historian David Musto notes that “a person growing up in 
America in the 1890s and the 1970s would have the image of a drug-using, 
drug-tolerating society; a person growing up in the 1940s — and perhaps in 
the 2000s — would have the image of a nation that firmly rejects narcotics.” 

• Fertility tends to rise during Outer- Driven eras, when Idealists are bom. The 

Puritans, Awakeners, Transcendentals, and Boomers were all the products 
of birth booms, just as their Adaptive next-elders were all the products of 
Crisis-era birth dearths. For the Missionaries, the anomalous Civil War 
Cycle created a somewhat different pattern: the birthrate suddenly fell for 
war-baby first- wavers (bom from 1860 to 1865), but thereafter stabilized 
until the early 1 880s — the only birthrate plateau during an otherwise steady 
downslope that stretched 130 years from the Gilded through the Silent. 
Birthrates always ease during Awakening eras, either by stabilizing after 
earlier growth (for Liberty babies) or by falling sharply (for 13er babies). 

• Immigration tends to rise during an Awakening era, peak during an Inner- 

Driven era, and fall during a Crisis era — each trend reflecting a different 
social consensus about pluralism and community. Since most immigrants 
have always ranged in age from their mid-teens to late thirties, Idealist and 



354 


GENERATIONS 


FIGURE 12-2 

Constellational Moods, by Era 



AWAKENING 

ERA 

INNER- 

DRIVEN 

ERA 

CRISIS 

ERA 

OUTER- 

DRIVEN 

ERA 



(Aligned Constellation at End of Era) 


ELDER: 

Civics 

Adaptive 

Idealists 

Reactives 

MIDLIFE: 

Adaptives 

Idealists 

Reactives 

Civics 

RISING: 

Idealists 

Reactives 

Civics 

Adaptives 

YOUTH: 

Reactives 

Civics 

Adaptives 

Idealists 

CYCLE CALENDAR: 

Year 1-22 

Year 23-44 

Year 45-66 

Year 67-88 

NURTURE OF 
CHILDREN: 

under- 

protective 

tightening 

over- 

protective 

loosening 

SEX ROLE 
DIVISIONS: 

narrowing 

narrowest 

point 

widening 

widest 

point 

TOLERANCE FOR 
PERSONAL RISK: 

rising 

high 

falling 

low 

INDIVIDUALISM 
VS. COMMUNITY: 

rising 

individualism 

maximum 

individualism 

rising 

community 

maximum 

community 

WORLD VIEW: 

BEHAVIOR TOWARD 
IDEALS: 

rising 

complexity 

discover 

maximum 

complexity 

cultivate 

rising 

simplicity 

champion 

maximum 

simplicity 

realize 

BEHAVIOR TOWARD 
INSTITUTIONS: 

attack 

redefine 

establish 

build 

SENSE OF 
GREATEST NEED: 

fix 

inner world 

do what 
feels right 

fix 

outer world 

do what 
works 

VISION OF 
FUTURE: 

euphoric 

darkening 

urgent 

brightening 


(especially) Reactive generations have had foreign-bom flavors. The Lib- 
erty, Transcendental, Gilded, Boom, and 13th comprise, in fact, the only 
American generations in which the share of immigrants has risen over their 
next-elders. Civic generations, on the other hand, have always shown a 
marked decline in their immigrant share. Civics enter rising adulthood during 







THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


355 


a Crisis era, when immigration is more difficult or less attractive — and 
when elder Idealist leaders typically take a hard anti-immigrant stance in 
order to “protect” the national community better than their Adaptive pre- 
decessors. 

• Economic growth tends to accelerate smoothly during an Outer-Driven era, 
falter during an Awakening era, proceed irregularly during an Inner-Driven 
era, and encounter severe setbacks or dislocations during a Crisis era. From 
1942 to 1973, for example, U.S. real output per worker grew far more 
rapidly than during any other comparable period over the last century. (The 
former year signaled the turning point of a Crisis era, the latter of an 
Awakening era.) Since 1973, growth in the American standard of living 
has slowed dramatically. Earlier episodes of robust economic growth follow 
roughly the same pattern: 1692 to 1735, 1789 to 1837, and 1867 to 1893. 
Toward the end of each of these periods, the public consensus underlying 
economic progress disintegrated as America entered an Awakening era. 
Ultimately, the progress itself either stopped, decelerated, or (at best) fluc- 
tuated erratically. At the other end of the cycle, Crisis eras typically include 
periods of serious material hardship — sometimes directly related to war 
(1774-1789, 1861-1867), sometimes not (1929-1938). 


Readers who reflect on these social indicators (and on the cyclical trends 
noted in Figure 12-2) will have no problem recognizing where we are today: 
approaching the middle of an Inner-Driven era. Nor will they have trouble 
figuring out where we have been over the last several decades and, more im- 
portant, where we are headed. 

Let’s now summarize the mood of each constellational era: 

THE MOOD OF AN AWAKENING ERA reflects society’s transition into 
a spiritual awakening. The focus on inner life grows to maximum intensity, as 
secular interest in outer life declines. Artistic culture is highly innovative. New 
social ideals, emerging out of utopian experiments in individual autonomy and 
perfect fellowship, are used to attack and weaken established institutions. Society 
has difficulty coalescing around common goals, and any social effort requiring 
collective discipline encounters withering controversy. Wars are unlikely, and 
those that occur are controversial when fought and badly remembered afterward. 
Sex role distinctions narrow, public order deteriorates, and crime and substance 
abuse rise. A euphoric enthusiasm over near-term spiritual progress eclipses 
public concern over secular problems, contributing to a high tolerance for risk- 
prone lifestyles. Child-rearing reaches the cyclical point of minimum protection 
and structure. The era’s defining, two-apart generational dialogue arises between 
coming-of-age Idealists and aging Civics — a noisy clash that elevates the new 



356 


GENERATIONS 


values of youth but leaves institutional leadership with the old. Sample military 
conflicts: Spanish-American War, Vietnam War. 

THE MOOD OF AN INNER-DRIVEN ERA begins where the fervor of 
the awakening leaves off. Satisfaction with personal and spiritual life is high, 
and individualism flourishes. Cultural and social life fragments amid signs of 
growing socioeconomic inequality. While confidence in established institutions 
sinks to a cyclical nadir, new efforts arise to redefine or recreate institutions 
around new ideals. Frenetic and pleasure-seeking lifestyles emerge, side by side 
with growing seriousness of purpose and a declining public toleration for aberrant 
personal behavior. Perceptions about society’s collective future darken, time 
horizons shorten, and mounting secular problems are deferred. Wars become 
more likely — and are fought with moral fervor but without consensus or follow- 
through. Sex-role distinctions narrow to their thinnest point, families strengthen, 
and child-rearing begins to move back toward protection and structure. The era’s 
defining, one-apart generational dialogue arises between rising-adult Reactives 
and midlife Idealists — open hostility between risk-taking adventurers on one side 
and punitive moralizers on the other. Sample military conflicts: King George’s 
War, French and Indian War, Mexican-American War, World War I, the 1989 
Panama invasion, the 1990 Persian Gulf deployment. 

THE MOOD OF A CRISIS ERA reflects society’s transition into a secular 
crisis. A grim preoccupation with outer- world peril grows to maximum intensity, 
as spiritual curiosity declines. Artistic culture avoids nuance, often (in the form 
of propaganda) overtly reinforcing “good” conduct. Worldly problems are no 
longer deferred, but are allowed to congeal into a struggle requiring total con- 
sensus, aggressive public institutions, and personal sacrifice. Wars are very 
likely, and they are fought with fury and efficacy. Sex role distinctions widen, 
public and family order strengthen, and personal violence and substance abuse 
decline. A rush of hopeful confidence in near-term secular progress crowds out 
worries about questionable public means and contributes to a low tolerance for 
risk-prone lifestyles. Child-rearing reaches the cyclical point of maximum pro- 
tection and structure. The era’s defining, two-apart generational dialogue arises 
between coming-of-age Civics and aging Idealists — a friendly alliance that har- 
nesses the worldly energy of the young but leaves values in the hands of the 
old. Sample military conflicts: King Philip’s War, colonial Glorious Revolution, 
American Revolution, Civil War, World War II. 

THE MOOD OF AN OUTER-DRIVEN ERA begins where the grim 
trauma of the recent crisis leaves off. The sense of community reaches its cyclical 
peak. Individualists are ostracized, and social and cultural life tends toward 
friendly biandness and homogeneity. The ideals that triumphed in the Crisis era are 
secularized and institutionalized. The emphasis is on planning, doing, and build- 



THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


357 


ing — though a few loners begin voicing disquiet over the spiritual cost of rapid 
economic and scientific progress. Perceptions about the society’s collective future 
brighten, and public time horizons lengthen. Wars tend to be unwanted echoes 
of the recent crisis — and are fought with consensus but without enthusiasm. 
Sex-role distinctions widen to their maximum point, but family cohesion begins 
to weaken, and child-rearing gradually becomes looser and more indulgent. The 
era’s defining, one-apart generational dialogue arises between rising-adult Adap- 
tives and midlife Civics — a low-keyed competition between sensitive doubters 
on one side and powerful builders on the other. Sample military conflicts: Queen 
Anne’s War, War of 1812, Korean War. 


The Cycle of Generational Types: A Paradigm 

Having built a paradigm for the moods of the constellational cycle, let’s do 
the same for each generational type. To be sure, no individual generation can 
fit such a paradigm exactly. This is especially true for the two generations most 
affected by the mistimed crisis during the Civil War Cycle — the Gilded and 
Progressives. Yet as we have seen in Chapter 5, even this exception offers a 
powerful normative message for each of today’s living generations. 


The IDEALIST Lifecycle 

Nurtured as children amid secular confidence and coming of age during an 
awakening, Idealist generations travel a prophetic lifecycle. Early in life. Idealists 
believe themselves closer to God than older generations; late in life, all gener- 
ations regard them as repositories of lofty values beyond the comprehension of 
youth. At a distance, we remember Idealists best for their coming-of-age passion 
(William Tennent, Nat Turner, William Jennings Bryan) and for their principled 
elder stewardship in times of crisis (Samuel Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin 
Roosevelt). Their phases of life: 

YOUTH: The Idealist generation grows up in a post-crisis era of mellowed 
Reactive elders, vigorous Civic midlifers, and conformist Adaptive rising adults. 
Parental protectiveness is high but receding, maintained by the confidence of 
Civic fathers but gradually subverted by the sympathy of Civic mothers. Children 
are indulged by parents in a world gripped with secularism, rationalism, and 
community-spirited conformism. Older generations hope the new children can 
bring a richer moral dimension to a world needing little additional safety or 
order, but showing symptoms of cultural sterility. 

RISING ADULTHOOD: Having cultivated a strong inner life during child- 
hood, Idealists come of age experiencing a spiritual awakening. They burst forth 



358 


GENERATIONS 


FIGURE 12—3 

Idealist Lifecycles 



YOUTH 

RISING 

MIDLIFE 

ELDER 

PURITAN 

(bom 1584-1614) 

Elizabethan 

Renaissance 

Puritan 

Awakening 

Religious 

Intolerance 

Glorious 

Revolution 

AWAKENER 

(bom 1701-1723) 

Age of 

Enlightenment 

Great 

Awakening 

French and 
Indian War 

American 

Revolution 

TRANSCENDENTAL 

(bom 1792-1821) 

Era of 

Good Feeling 

Transcendental 

Awakening 

Civil 

War 

Reconstruction. 
Gilded Age 

MISSIONARY 

(bom 1860-1882) 

Reconstruction, 
Gilded Age 

Missionary 

Awakening 

World War I, 
Prohibition 

Depression, 
World War II 

BOOM 

(bom 1943-1960) 

Superpower 

America 

Boom 

Awakening 

— 

— 


with angry challenges to their elders’ public and private behavior, which they 
regard as intolerably deficient in moral worth. Unable to defend themselves 
effectively, aging Civics ultimately cede the values agenda to the young. Mean- 
while, rising Idealists launch the entire society into a fever of renewal, which 
typically peaks and is already half forgotten by the time their last wave has 
entered rising adulthood. Right-brained spiritualists, they encourage individual 
autonomy, resist social cooperation (except as a means of self-discovery), and 
erode prevailing distinctions between sex roles. 

MIDLIFE: After their coming-of-age outburst, the Idealists’ first instinct is 
to retrench, to concentrate on perfecting the inner life. Entering midlife, they 
gradually reshape institutions around new values and assume a judgmental stance 
against what they perceive to be the moral vacuum of the younger Reactives. 
They come to political power slowly but resolutely, beginning with relatively 
weak leaders tolerant of their peers’ self-immersed impulses. Gradually, splits 
emerge and deepen between Idealist factions holding competing moral posi- 
tions — each insisting on applying absolute principles to the outer world, but 
disagreeing with the other factions over what those principles should be. 



THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


359 


ELDERHOOD: One Idealist faction ultimately prevails, setting an agenda 
for decisive collective action. Producing leaders of great moral authority, Idealists 
impose their will sternly on people of all ages — calling on younger Reactive 
and Civic generations to make sacrifices for principled causes. The society now 
passes through an era of secular crisis — a key historic turning point, possibly a 
major war. After the crisis, public institutions substantially reflect the inner 
visions of Idealist elders, who look upon themselves as vital links to culture and 
civilization. From the young, they seek personal obedience and respect more 
than public power or reward. 


The REACTIVE Lifecycle 

Nurtured as children during an awakening and coming of age amid spiritual 
confidence but secular unease, Reactive generations travel a picaresque lifecycle. 
Early in life, Reactives desperately seek to escape or outwit the judgments of 
next-elder Idealists; late in life, they make unthanked sacrifices for next-junior 
Civics. At a distance, we remember Reactives best during their rising-adult years 
of hell-raising (Paxton Boys, Missouri Raiders, rumrunners) and during their 

FIGURE 12-4 

Reactive Lifecycles 



YOUTH 

RISING 

MIDLIFE 

ELDER 

CAVALIER 

(bom 1615-1647) 

Puritan 

Awakening 

Religious 

Intolerance 

Glorious 

Revolution 

Age of 

Enlightenment 

LIBERTY 

(bom 1724-1741) 

Great 

Awakening 

French and 
Indian War 

American 

Revolution 

Era of 

Good Feeling 

GILDED 

(bom 1822-1842) 

Transcendental 

Awakening 

Civil 

War 

Reconstruction, 
Gilded Age 

Missionary 

Awakening 

LOST 

(bom 1883-1900) 

Missionary 

Awakening 

World War I, 
Prohibition 

Depression, 
World War II 

Superpower 

America 

THIRTEENTH 

(bom 1961-1981) 

Boom 

Awakening 

— 

— 

— 



360 


GENERATIONS 


midlife years of tough, in-the-fray leadership (George Washington, Ulysses 
Grant, Harry Truman). Their phases of life: 

YOUTH: The Reactive generation is child to an era of still powerful Civic 
elders, tom Adaptive midlifers, and moralizing Idealist rising adults. With Adap- 
tive approval, children are left free to find their own norms of behavior and 
adjust to a world of narrowing sex-role distinctions. No longer protective, parents 
expose children to real-world anxieties and dangers. With a largely self-absorbed 
adult society immersed in a spiritual awakening, youths are given little sense of 
mission or direction. Adults tend to view them harshly — at best, as inconvenient; 
at worst, as disappointing or even wicked. 

RISING ADULTHOOD: Reactives come of age with little collective self- 
esteem. Their early contact with the real world, however, gives them strong 
survival skills and high hopes for individual success. They perceive midlife 
Idealists as pompous and judgmental, and are themselves perceived as amoral 
and devoid of inner life. Defining themselves in cynical opposition to the Ide- 
alists, who by now are starting to govern with an increasingly heavy hand, young 
Reactive adults engage in social and economic entrepreneurship, tinged with 
pleasure-seeking and other high-risk behavior. 

MIDLIFE: Playing to win but half-expecting to lose, Reactives enter midlife 
accepting wide gaps in personal outcomes — and between sex roles. They regard 
success or failure as a private matter while they gradually leam to abide, and 
no longer fight, the Idealist stigma against their generation. They become cautious 
in family life and gradually mellow in personality. Their ablest peers become 
society’s most cunning, pragmatic, and colorful public figures — military and 
commercial managers of great realism, effective leaders for the secular crisis 
congealed by elder Idealists. 

ELDERHOOD: Elder Reactives remain undemanding in a new, post-crisis 
era when society begins praising the energy of Civic midlifers and indulging a 
new crop of Idealist youths. Aging leaders compensate for their generation’s 
earlier bingelike behavior by shunning risk and encouraging conformism. By 
instinct, old Reactives are wary conservatives, “not bom yesterday,’’ inclined 
to warn more than guide. They retire into an individualist, if neglected, role. 


The CIVIC Lifecycle 

Nurtured as children amid spiritual confidence and coming of age during a 
secular crisis, Civic generations travel a heroic lifecycle. Early in life, Civics 
believe themselves more powerful than older generations; late in life, all gen- 



THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


361 


FIGURE 12-5 

Civic Lifecycles 



YOUTH 

RISING 

MIDLIFE 

ELDER 

GLORIOUS 

(bom 1648-1673) 

Religious 

Intolerance 

Glorious 

Revolution 

Era of 

Enlightenment 

Great 

Awakening 

REPUBLICAN 

(bom 1742-1766) 

French and 
Indian War 

American 

Revolution 

Era of 

Good Feeling 

Transcendental 

Awakening 

G.I. 

(bom 1901-1924) 

World War I, 
Prohibition 

Depression, 
World War II 

Superpower 

America 

Boom 

Awakening 

MILLENNIAL 

(bom 1982-2003?) 

— 

— 

— 

— 


erations regard them as uniquely optimistic, collegial, and competent. At a 
distance, we remember Civics best for their collective coming-of-age triumphs 
(the Glorious Revolution, Yorktown, VJ-Day) and for their crowning midlife 
achievements (the Peace of Utrecht and slave codes, the Louisiana Purchase and 
steamboats, the Apollo moon launches and interstate highways). Their phases 
of life: 

YOUTH: The Civic generation spends childhood during a post-awakening 
era of sensitive Adaptive elders, values-oriented Idealist midlifers, and pleasure- 
seeking Reactive rising adults. Idealist parents look upon these children as spe- 
cial, an instrument through which their inner visions can be achieved or defended. 
The child environment, now perceived to be dangerous, is pushed back toward 
greater protection and structure. Since adults expect children to be dutiful, smart, 
and potentially powerful, youths develop a clear collective mission and high 
ambitions for cleaning up and rebuilding the outer world. 

RISING ADULTHOOD: Coming of age, Civics develop activity-oriented 
peer relationships, peer-enforced codes of conduct, and a strong sense of gen- 
erational community. They band together at a historic moment and — guided by 
the principled wisdom of elder Idealists and the realistic leadership of midlife 
Reactives — successfully shoulder a secular crisis. After doing their duty un- 
selfishly, they afterward expect, and receive, generous praise and reward from 
other generations. Left-brained achievers and instinctive team players, they ex- 



362 


GENERATIONS 


pect human relationships to be clearly defined and push for wider distinctions 
between acceptable sex roles. 

MIDLIFE: Empowered by the hubris of early success, Civics reach midlife 
as builders and doers, defenders of a wholesome but conformist culture. After 
impatiently awaiting their turn atop society, they push aside the aging Reactives 
and enter leadership roles with vigor, certain of their own ability to make things 
work. They try to institutionalize and rationalize every sphere of social life, from 
science to religion, statecraft to the arts. Their midlife hubris, however, often 
encourages them to overreach and push secular perfection too far. As Civics 
begin passing out of midlife, they elicit a stormy crusade of moral purification 
from coming-of-age Idealists. 

ELDERHOOD: Old age does not weaken the Civic reputation for unusual 
energy and collective purpose. As elders, however, they grow frustrated at how 
the new spiritual agenda saps the strength of their powerful institutions, which 
they fear may not survive without their special competence. They detach them- 
selves from new cultural trends but retain an active role in public affairs. From 
the young, Civics seek institutional power and economic reward more than 
personal respect or obedience. 


The ADAPTIVE Lifecycle 

Nurtured as children during a crisis and coming of age amid secular confidence 
but spiritual unease, Adaptive generations travel a genteel lifecycle. Early in 
life, Adaptives try to excel in the subordinate tasks given them by next-elder 
Civics; late in life, they seek approving judgments from next-junior Idealists. 
At a distance, we remember them best during their quiet years of rising adulthood 
(the log-cabin settlers of 1800, the Great Plains farmers of 1880, the young 
suburbanites of 1960) and during their midlife years of flexible, consensus- 
seeking leadership (the Whig “compromises” of Henry Clay and Daniel Web- 
ster, the “good government” reforms of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow 
Wilson, the budgetary and peace “processes” of Phil Gramm and James Baker 
III). Their phases of life: 

YOUTH: The Adaptive generation enters childhood surrounded by stem 
Idealist elders, pragmatic Reactive midlifers, and aggressive Civic rising adults. 
A secular crisis erupts. Reactive-led families surround children with an inten- 
sively protective, even suffocating style of nurture. Children are expected to stay 
out of the way of harm — and of busy adults. Though assured of their collective 
worth, they are told their individual needs take a low priority as long as the 



THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


363 


FIGURE 1 2—6 

Adative Lifecycles 



YOUTH 

RISING 

MIDLIFE 

ELDER 

ENLIGHTENMENT 
(bom 1674-1700) 

Glorious 

Revolution 

Age of 

Enlightenment 

Great 

Awakening 

French and 
Indian War 

COMPROMISE 

(bom 1767-1791) 

American 

Revolution 

Era of 

Good Feeling 

Transcendental 

Awakening 

Civil 

War 

PROGRESSIVE 

(bom 1843-1859) 

Civil 

War 

Reconstruction, 
Gilded Age 

Missionary 

Awakening 

World War I, 
Prohibition 

SILENT 

(bom 1925-1942) 

Depression, 
World War II 

Superpower 

America 

Boom 

Awakening 

— 


community is struggling for its survival. Adaptive youths inherit a world of 
widening sex-role distinctions. They grow up well behaved, while wondering 
how (or if) they can live up to the expectations of powerful elders who are 
sacrificing so much on their behalf. 

RISING ADULTHOOD: Taught to pursue acceptance from older genera- 
tions, Adaptives come of age emulating successful adult behavior. Not old 
enough to participate in the crisis as adults, they fail to experience a cathartic 
rite of passage — and fail to acquire the self-confidence of their next-elders. 
Individually insecure in an era of public optimism, they try conforming to the 
expectations of elders, which now means playing the ameliorator to the Civics’ 
grand post-crisis edifice. Meanwhile, they probe cautiously for a fresher, more 
fulfilling role. This effort leads to a cult of professional expertise (beating the 
Civics at their own game) and to critical gestures of conscience and humanism 
(exposing the Civics’ spiritual shortcomings). Young adults infuse popular cul- 
ture with new vitality and provide encouraging mentors to new youth movements 
that hit just too late for them to join. 

MIDLIFE: Adaptives enter midlife while coming-of-age Idealists are trig- 
gering a spiritual awakening. This new phase of life poses an awkward personal 
“passage” for a generation forced to choose between the outer mission of older 
Civics and the inner mission of younger Idealists. Post-passage, still searching 



364 


GENERATIONS 


for an elusive catharsis, Adaptive midlifers compensate for their earlier confor- 
mism by engaging in high-risk political and family behavior. In public life, they 
focus on issues low in substance but rich in personality and drama. Those who 
reach positions of leadership tend to rely on expertise, process, and pluralism — 
and, in so doing, tend to postpone unpleasant choices. 

ELDERHOOD: Entering old age while a more sober and values-oriented 
leadership style is emerging, Adaptives remain personally flexible and culturally 
sensitive. By instinct, elder Adaptives are trusting liberals — believers in the 
inherent goodness of man and his need for second chances. Just as they once 
took cues from Civic elders, now they adopt the agenda of younger Idealists 
while wishing to be accepted as full partners in the new values regime. They 
preserve a social conscience, show a resilient spirit, and never stop raising new 
questions. 

In Figure 12-7, we summarize the peer personalities of each of the four 
generational types. 

These contrasting peer personalities lead to important contrasts in leadership 
styles. Figure 12-8 compares the best-remembered American political leaders of 
each type — listing two from each generation over the first four cycles. We include 
only those who have held a major office: colonial governorships for the first 
cycle, the Continental Congress for the Awakeners, and U.S. Presidents (or, for 
the Silent, Presidential nominees) thereafter. 

For each set of eight names in Figure 12-8, reflect on common elements, the 
outline of a composite peer personality. The following impressions emerge: 

• Idealist leaders have been cerebral and principled, summoners of human sac- 

rifice, wagers of righteous wars. Early in life, none saw combat in uniform; 
late in life, most came to be revered as much for their words as for their 
deeds. 

• Reactive leaders have been cunning, hard-to-fool realists, taciturn warriors 

who prefer to meet problems and adversaries one-on-one. They include the 
only two Presidents who had earlier hanged a man (Washington and Cleve- 
land), one governor who hanged witches (Stoughton), and several com- 
manders who had led troops into battle (Bacon, Washington, Grant, Truman, 
and Eisenhower). 

• Civic leaders have been vigorous and rational institution-builders, busy and 

competent even in old age. All of them, entering midlife, were aggressive 
advocates of technological progress, economic prosperity, social harmony, 
and public optimism. 



THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


365 


FIGURE 12-7 

Peer Personalities, 
by Generational Type 



IDEALIST 

REACTIVE 

CIVIC 

ADAPTIVE 

Lifecycle Type: 

prophetic 

picaresque 

heroic 

genteel 

Parental Attachment 
in Youth: 

strongest 
to mother 

independent 
of both 

strongest 
to father 

obedient 
to both 

Coming-of-Age 

Experience: 

sanctifying 

alienating 

empowering 

unfulfilling 

Principal Focus, 
Coming-of-Age: 

inner- 

world 

whatever 
works best 

outer- 

world 

tom between 
inner & outer 

How Perceived 
Coming-of-Age: 

stormy 

bad 

good 

placid 

Preoccupation in 
Rising Adulthood: 

reflecting 

competing 

building 

ameliorating 

Attitude 
Transition 
in Midlife: 

detached 

to 

judgmental 

risk-seeking 

to 

exhausted 

energetic 

to 

hubristic 

conformist 

to 

experimental 

Preoccupation 
in Elderhood: 

civilization 

survival 

community 

family 

How Perceived 
as Elders: 

visionary, 

wise 

lonely, 

caustic 

busy, 

confident 

sensitive, 

flexible 

Style of 
Leadership: 

righteous, 

austere 

pragmatic, 

cautious 

grand, 

expansive 

process-fixated, 

pluralistic 

God is . . . 

truth 

persuasion 

power 

love 

How It Is Nurtured: 

relaxing 

underprotective 

tightening 

overprotective 

How It Nurtures: 

tightening 

overprotective 

relaxing 

underprotective 

Positive 

Attributes: 

principled 

resolute 

creative 

savvy 

perceptive 

practical 

rational 

selfless 

competent 

caring 

open-minded 

expert 

Negative 

Attributes: 

ruthless 

selfish 

arrogant 

amoral 

pecuniary 

uncultured 

overbold 

unreflective 

insensitive 

indecisive 

guilt-ridden 

neurotic 






366 


GENERATIONS 


FIGURE 12-8 

Political Leaders, 

First Four Cycles by Generational Type 

DOMINANT GENERATIONS RECESSIVE GENERATIONS 


IDEALISTS 

REACTIVES 

John Winthrop (MA) 

Nathaniel Bacon (VA) 

William Berkeley (VA) 

William Stoughton (MA) 

Samuel Adams 

George Washington 

Benjamin Franklin 

John Adams 

James Polk 

Ulysses Grant 

Abraham Lincoln 

Grover Cleveland 

Herbert Hoover 

Harry Truman 

Franklin Roosevelt 

Dwight Eisenhower 

CIVICS 

ADAPTIVES 

Gurdon Saltonstall (CT) 

William Shirley (MA) 

Robert “King” Carter (VA) 

Cadwallader Colden (NY) 

Thomas Jefferson 

John Quincy Adams 

James Madison 

Andrew Jackson 


Theodore Roosevelt 

— 

Woodrow Wilson 

John Kennedy 

Walter Mondale 

Ronald Reagan 

Michael Dukakis 


• Adaptive leaders, reflecting a more complicated mixture of passive and ag- 
gressive masculinity, have been advocates of fairness and the politics of 
inclusion, irrepressible in the wake of failure. With the single exception of 
Andrew Jackson, all those listed in Figure 12-8 rank among the most expert 
and credentialed of American political figures. 


We can extend these analogues beyond national leaders to the broader oc- 
cupational world. To be sure, each generational type (and each generation) has 
included many individuals who have made important achievements in every 
realm of human endeavor. But if we recall the most influential members of our 
eighteen generations and batch their careers by generational type, striking patterns 
emerge. As shown in Figure 12-9, certain occupational callings can be linked 
with the four peer personalities. 

We find American history dominated by Idealist thinkers, Reactive risk- takers, 
Civic doers, and Adaptive improvers. This pattern offers clues about the enduring 




THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


367 


FIGURE 12-9 

Principal Callings, by Generational Type 

DOMINANT GENERATIONS RECESSIVE GENERATIONS 


IDEALISTS 

REACTIVES 

Preachers 

Entrepreneurs 

Writers 

Brigands 

Radicals 

Industrialists 

Publishers 

Generals 

Teachers 

Salesmen 

CIVICS 

ADAPTIVES 

Statesmen 

Artists 

Scientists 

Lawyers 

Economists 

Therapists 

Diplomats 

Legislators 

Builders 

Statisticians 


legacy that each type leaves behind for its heirs — the legacy we call “generational 
endowments.” 


Generational Endowments 

Most Americans have always cared deeply about their national destiny and 
have liked to think they are adding to — not subtracting from — the sum total of 
civilized progress they pass on to heirs. Over the centuries, however, the way 
Americans have felt and behaved as societal legators has changed substantially 
from one era to the next. Each generational type has shown its own special 
endowment tendencies, good and bad. 

Central to a generation’s endowment motivation is its awareness of what 
Auguste Comte termed its “morphology” — its awareness of death. Most social 
categories are essentially immortal. If we think of ourselves as white or black, 
Christian or Jew, northerner or southerner, we are not compelled to view the 
future with special urgency. Any work we leave undone in our lifetime can be 
completed later by another member of our group. But generations are different. 
Each has only a limited time to make its mark or otherwise keep its peace. 

Individuals also understand that their own time is limited, of course — but 
most of the 440 million Americans who have ever lived have had trouble rec- 
ognizing direct links between their own behavior and the progress of civilization. 



368 


GENERATIONS 


Thus when people make major sacrifices on behalf of the future, social scientists 
tend to puzzle over such behavior, seeing it as contrary to self-interest (what 
economists call the irrational “endowment motive”) or as a blind instinctual 
drive to provide for one’s own family (an attempt, say sociobiologists, to ensure 
the survival of one’s own DNA). Nothing loftier seems plausible, however 
inadequately such motives explain the behavior of great social benefactors, such 
as an Andrew Carnegie or a Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet as members of gen- 
erations, we have less difficulty appreciating how we steer the destiny of our 
society. Just as age location connects our personal biographies with the broad 
currents of history, so do generations bridge the gap between personal and social 
goodwill. Whatever other reasons we might have to behave well toward the 
future, our generational membership prompts us to act now rather than later. 
Each generation realizes that when it fades, so too will fade its own way of 
thinking about the future. 

From Robert Beverley in the 1710s to John Kennedy in the 1960s, Americans 
have generally agreed that each generation has an obligation to leave behind a 
more secure and affluent world than it inherits. Around the time of the drafting 
of the United States Constitution and the absorption of state debts into one 
national debt, Thomas Jefferson argued that since each generation is “as an 
independent nation,” it is thereby entitled to disclaim any debts from the past 
(and, presumably, any promises to the future). Madison and Hamilton believed 
otherwise, and their view prevailed. Indeed, their view has always prevailed. 
Successive American generations have rarely hesitated to bind their heirs through 
public and private action, producing an impressive record of material and insti- 
tutional endowments. But this record is not without its peaks and valleys. Over 
the centuries, the “present versus future” debate has sometimes been resolved 
in favor of the future, sometimes in favor of the present. Children (and unborn 
generations) cannot vote, and grand plans for the future often cannot override 
the urgencies and desires of the moment. This is especially true in an Inner- 
Driven era, a time when society trusts values more than institutions. In this 
regard, the circa- 1990 policy paralysis over trade and budget deficits has much 
in common with the circa- 19 10 stalemate over urbanization. 

Many Americans today express doubts about their society’s capacity — or 
willingness — to do anything worthwhile on behalf of future generations. On the 
one hand, polls indicate that adults worry increasingly (and rather hopelessly) 
about the harms they are passing on, from massive debts and inadequate schooling 
to a despoiled environment and crumbling infrastructure. On the other hand, 
many flaunt a lack of concern in their daily lives. A favorite bumper sticker 
among G.I.s declares “We’re Spending Our Children’s Inheritance,” while a 
Boomer favorite trumpets “Whoever Dies with the Most Toys Wins.” 

Is America abandoning any interest in its own destiny? The cycle suggests it 
is not. As we have seen, each constellational era has its own vision of what the 
future needs, and today’s vision is consistent with the mood of an Inner-Driven 



THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


369 


era. True enough, America’s enthusiasm about material and public-order en- 
dowments is now quite low. As an aging Civic generation passes from power, 
this feeling is (on schedule) sinking to a cyclical nadir. Yet if we think about 
other kinds of endowments — such as the retooling of institutions in the direction 
of pluralism, compassion, and fair process — it is hard to recall when Americans 
have ever been so hard at work. With an Adaptive generation in power, the 
country’s activity in this area has recently been (again on schedule) energetic 
and growing. Just as a society’s vision of the future shifts with the constellational 
mood, so does the primary focus of its endowment activity. How it shifts depends 
on the phase-of-life positioning of peer personalities. 

To see how this works, let’s look at the link between endowments and gen- 
erational types: 

• Throughout its lifecycle , each generation s endowment efforts are concentrated 
in areas closely connected to its peer personality . 


Clearly, a generation can endow the future in any number of ways. It can 
build airports, establish corporations, write poetry, protect the wilderness, fight 
to preserve liberty, expand rights for the handicapped, fund a pension plan, or 
teach children how to spell. It can add to the accumulated stock of physical, 
natural, or human capital — or add to the ancestral legacy of political, artistic, 
and spiritual capital. But since different generations think and feel differently 
about life, their preference among kinds of endowment will not be uniform or 
random. Idealist generations do not grow up eager to turn beaches into concrete 
harbors, nor Civic generations to found spiritual cults. Likewise, young Reactives 
seldom daydream about making life failsafe through flowcharts, nor do many 
young Adaptives yearn to vanquish competitors in Top Gun dogfights. Instead, 
each generation concentrates on making endowments expressive of its lifelong 
peer personality. Reflect on the types of endowments Americans celebrate on 
four major national holidays. On Thanksgiving, we celebrate the spiritual values 
of daily life, thanks to the (Idealist) Puritans; on July Fourth, national inde- 
pendence, thanks to the (Reactive) Liberty; on Memorial Day, public heroism, 
thanks to the (Civic) G.I.s; and on Martin Luther King’s Birthday, cultural 
pluralism, thanks to the (Adaptive) Silent. 

Looking through the biographies of America’s eighteen generations, we can 
see that every generation makes at least some mark in every variety of endow- 
ment. But, as with so much else, an important pattern emerges. Figure 12-10 
summarizes how each generational type shows a special instinct — and talent — 
for certain endowment activity. 

As a generation matures, its endowment behavior becomes part of its peer 
personality — part of its self-image and its image in the eyes of elders and juniors. 
Just as each generation (and type) tends to stake out a matching endowment 



370 


GENERATIONS 


FIGURE 12-10 

Principal Endowment Activities, 
by Generational Type 


DOMINANT GENERATIONS RECESSIVE GENERATIONS 


IDEALISTS 

REACTIVES 

Principle 

Liberty 

Religion 

Pragmatism 

Education 

Survival 

CIVICS 

ADAPTIVES 

Community 

Pluralism 

Technology 

Expertise 

Affluence 

Social Justice 


agenda, so do other generations come to defer to that generation (and type) for 
providing such endowments. Over the past several decades, for example, Amer- 
icans of all ages have looked to G.I.s for big constructions, to the Silent for 
fairness, to Boomers for reflection. Similarly, early-nineteenth-century Ameri- 
cans looked to Republicans for institutions, to Compromisers for mediation, to 
Transcendentals for religion — and, later, to the Gilded for hard-nosed realism. 

Whatever its type, a generation works to achieve endowments with an intensity 
that varies over its lifecycle. In youth, its endowment activity is virtually nil. 
Coming of age, it begins building a legacy by fulfilling or challenging the 
endowment expectations of elders. Maturing into midlife leadership, it begins 
to make major contributions on its own. As its first cohorts enter elderhood — 
typically attaining the highest leadership posts while realizing its agenda must 
soon be either completed or abandoned — its activity reaches maximum intensity 
and then falls off. Moving beyond elderhood (right around the time the next 
generation of its type is entering youth), a generation typically sees its agenda 
neglected. Since each type of generation is pushing a certain endowment activity 
throughout its lifecycle, this dynamic gives endowment behavior a characteristic 
pattern during each constellational era. Specifically: 

• The endowment behavior of each constellational era reflects the NEW endow- 
ment activity of the generational type coming of age; the STRONG and 
RISING endowment activity of the type entering midlife; the PEAKING , 
then FALLING activity of the type entering elderhood; and the DORMANT 
activity of the type moving beyond elderhood (and moving into youth). 




THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


371 


FIGURE 12-11 

Endowment Behavior, 
by Constellational Era 


PRINCIPAL 

ENDOWMENT AWAKENING 

ACTIVITIES ERA 

INNER- 

DRIVEN 

ERA 

CRISIS 

ERA 

OUTER- 

DRIVEN 

ERA 

Modern Example: 

1970s 

1990s 

1930s 

1950s 

IDEALIST 

Principle 


strong 

peaking, 


endowments: 

Religion 

new 

and 

then 

dormant 


Education 


rising 

falling 


REACTIVE 

Liberty 



strong 

peaking, 

endowments: 

Pragmatism 

dormant 

new 

and 

then 


Survival 



rising 

falling 

CIVIC 

Community 

peaking, 



strong 

endowments: 

Technology 

then 

dormant 

new 

and 


Affluence 

falling 



rising 

ADAPTIVE 

Pluralism 

strong 

peaking, 



endowments: 

Expertise 

and 

then 

dormant 

new 


Social Justice 

rising 

falling 




We show this dynamic in Figure 12-11, which indicates how society-wide 
attention to different endowments shifts over time. 

Let’s summarize the endowment activity of each era: 

AN AWAKENING ERA begins with Civic endowment activity in confident 
overdrive. Society is building big things, exploring new worlds, organizing new 
institutions. As the moral claims of young Idealists emerge, a spiritual awakening 
lashes out at society’s secular bias — which suddenly halts and frustrates its 
forward motion. By the end of the era, Civic “progress” is mired, while the 
fairness- and process-oriented endowments of the Adaptive ameliorators gain 
favor. The old Reactive focus on prudence and realism now appears stodgy and 
old-fashioned. 

AN INNER-DRIVEN ERA begins with Adaptive endowment activity reach- 
ing high tide — pushing pluralism to the limit, infusing justice with process, and 
making institutions highly professional and complex. Coming-of-age Reactives 
apply new survival skills to a world they find harsh. The values- and morality- 



372 


GENERATIONS 


oriented endowments of Idealist moralizers gradually gain popularity. Civic 
endowments, now seen as gridlocked and unworkable, attract little new interest 
until near the end of the era. 

A CRISIS ERA begins with Idealist endowment activity rising to maximum 
fury. Society now places total priority on establishing a consensus of good- 
versus-bad, right- versus- wrong. Sometime near the peak of the secular crisis, 
this fervor gives way to the sharp-eyed, prudential endowments of midlife Re- 
actives. The energy and teamwork of coming-of-age Civics emerge from a new 
chrysalis. By now, the old Adaptive sensitivity to process and pluralism is deemed 
a wasteful, even subversive luxury. 

AN OUTER-DRIVEN ERA begins with Reactive endowment activity in 
great popular demand — emphasizing survival and stability, and consolidating 
new institutions while preserving families and tradition from encroachment. The 
more ambitious and collectivist endowments of the Civic builders gradually gain 
popularity. Coming-of-age Adaptives build expertise. Tired of moral crusades, 
society turns its back on Idealist endowments until near the end of the era. 

Within any era, the most striking pattern is not so much the emergence of a 
new endowment activity (which is gradual), but the decline of an old activity 
(which is rapid). Since younger generations have grown accustomed to relying 
on an older generation to champion its own preferred endowment activity, they 
are unprepared to fill the gap when that older generation passes on. Like a table 
with one leg jerked away, therefore, society suffers a “tilt” or disequilibrium 
from the sudden absence of this endowment activity. The implications are clear: 

• In each era , the most noticeable endowment neglect or reversal is likely to 
occur in the endowment activity associated with the generation currently 
passing beyond elderhood. 

In a Crisis era, for example, due process and fair play fall into disfavor — 
not only from the force of events, but also because the generation that everyone 
expects to defend them is disappearing. Think back to the aggressive regimen- 
tation of economic and social life during the mid- 1 930s , or to the mass internment 
of Japanese- American citizens a few years later. Where were the Adaptives? 
Where were the Progressive trust-busters and champions of due process? They 
were, by then, too old to be heard. We could ask similar questions of prior 
Crisis eras. Where were the Adaptive conciliators during the Civil War or the 
American Revolution? The Compromisers or Enlighteners were, by this time, 
too old or discredited. 

The same pattern holds for other types of eras. The culturally sterile “end of 
ideology” decade of the 1950s (an Outer-Driven era) could have used a few 
zealous Idealists to stir things up — but the Missionaries were disappearing. Much 



THE PAST AS PROLOGUE 


373 


the same could be said for the culturally quiescent Jeffersonian era of the early 
1800s (then feeling the loss of the Awakeners) or the circa- 1880 height of the 
Gilded Age (when the Transcendentals were fading). The Do-It-Now euphoria 
that gripped America from the late 1960s through most of the 1970s (an Awak- 
ening era) needed something very different: a splash of ice-water realism. Skep- 
tical Reactives might have sobered us up and spared us disappointment later on. 
But it was too late; by the time of Model Cities and Woodstock, all but a few 
of the Lost had passed from the scene. Today, America is moving into an Inner- 
Driven era — with Adaptives adding layers of institutional process and detached 
Idealists still perfecting new values. Whose endowment activity are we beginning 
to miss the most? The G.I.s, the only living generation that still knows how to 
unify the community and get big things done. 

The overlapping pattern between generations and endowment behavior leads 
to a final lifecycle observation: 

• Each generation develops a lifelong endowment agenda pointing toward the 
endowment activity that society neglected or reversed during its youth. 


The Silent, like every earlier Adaptive generation, grew up in a crisis-gripped 
world that had little time for refinement, sensitivity, or play-by-the-rules fairness. 
Their lifelong agenda has pointed toward rectifying such mistakes, toward raising 
again the banner dropped in old age by the Progressives. (It was, for example, 
a Silent-dominated Congress that recently awarded $20,000 in damages to every 
Japanese-American interned during World War II.) Boomers, like every earlier 
Idealist generation, grew up as children during a cyclical low tide of spiritual 
curiosity. Their lifelong endowment agenda points toward infusing society with 
new spiritual energy. Indeed, the Boom is the first generation since the Mis- 
sionaries to show signs of preparing for late-in-life moral crusades. For 13ers, 
we should ask what they will someday sense was missing from their childhood 
environment. Most likely, it will be something all generations have missed since 
the mid-1960s: the active presence of the pragmatic Lost. As for the newly 
arriving Millennial, perhaps they will grow up yearning for something Amer- 
icans are about to miss: the active presence of the team-playing G.I.s. 

“As is the generation of leaves,” wrote Homer, “so it is with the generations 
of men, which alternately come forth and pass away.” Endowment behavior 
reflects a stabilizing dynamic intrinsic to the generational cycle, which ensures 
that no one dimension of progress is pushed too long — or lies dormant too long. 
Like Homer’s “leaves,” each kind of endowment activity has its own season. 
This makes the cycle of generations a powerful force for rejuvenation, a balance 
wheel for human progress, and — if all generations play their roles well — a 
guarantor of the American Dream. 

The past is prologue. Let’s turn to the future. 



Chapter 13 


COMPLETING THE 
MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


LJ 

1 Jl istory is full of sparks. Some have blazed for a moment, then died. Others 
have touched off conflagrations out of all proportion to the sparks themselves. 

Suppose authorities seriously suspected that a band of terrorists, linked to a 
fanatically anti-American nation, had smuggled a nuclear bomb into New York 
City. How would America respond? To answer this question, we would need 
to know when this event is taking place — specifically, during which constella- 
tional era. 

Suppose the terrorist threat had arisen during the last Awakening era, say 
around 1970. At that time, it would surely have unleashed raging national cross- 
currents of secular confidence and spiritual rebellion. Almost any official re- 
sponse would have been intensely controversial. G.I. leaders in their fifties, 
acting as hubristic crisis managers, would have played down the threat by assuring 
the public that daily life need not be disturbed — while working to control the 
situation through vigorous technological means. Angry coming-of-age Boomers 
would have organized behind a variety of symbolic and emotional responses, 
accusing the U.S. government of lying (one way or the other) and blaming it 
all on some monstrous institutional plot. Caught in between, the thirty ish Silent 
would have puzzled for reasons why any foreigner could hate us so much. 
Evacuation would have taken place in a mood of collective hysteria and disbelief. 
America would have been at war with itself more than with the perpetrators. 

Alternatively, suppose this nuclear terrorism were to happen sometime in the 



COMPLETING THE MILLENNIAL CYCLE 


375 


early 1990s, in the middle of the current Inner-Driven era. By then, the span of 
roughly a quarter century will have entirely reshaped the likely national re- 
sponse — which would now stress caution, conciliation, and deferral. Silent cab- 
inet officers would consult allies, form committees, review options, and invite 
full public discussion. After initiating multilateral negotiations, leaders would 
generally try to wait things out. The crisis would frustrate but not anger Boomers 
(who would trade philosophic remarks about how it was bound to happen sooner 
or later) and would hardly ruffle young 13ers (many of whom might rush toward 
the city to sell or volunteer transportation to families wanting to leave). Official 
evacuation plans would be expensive and overcomplicated and would elicit little 
public confidence that they would work as intended. Most people would stay 
calm and simply make their own plans. Chances are, the nation would squeeze 
by the immediate threat undamaged, but leave its underlying causes either un- 
solved or, at best, mildly ameliorated. 

Finally, suppose the terrorists were to strike during the upcoming Crisis 
constellation, sometime around the year 2020. Once again, a quarter turn in the 
generational constellation would prompt a response that, from today’s perspec- 
tive, seems unrecognizable. Boomer leaders in their sixties would neither hide 
nor ponder the rumor; instead, they would exaggerate the threat (who said there 
was a bomb in only one city?) and tie it to a larger sense of global crisis. Unifying 
the nation as a community, these leaders would define the enemy broadly and 
demand its total defeat — regardless of the human and economic sacrifices re- 
quired. Evacuation would be mannerly, with cooperative Millennial youths seek- 
ing and accepting orders from elders and with pragmatic midlife 13ers making 
sure no time is wasted. The nation would act promptly and decisively as a single 
organism. For better or for worse, Americans would be far more inclined than 
in other eras to risk catastrophe to achieve what its leaders would define as a 
just outcome. 

Here we have one hypothetical event, and three hugely contrasting responses. 
In all likelihood, the impact on history would come less from the act of terrorism 
itself than from the response it would provoke. 

In looking ahead to the future, no one can say whether nuclear terrorism will 
ever strike. Nor can anyone be sure about any number of troubling scenarios 
often mentioned in predictions about the early twenty-first century: the use of 
chemical, germ, or nuclear weapons by small nations; revolution in Latin Amer- 
ica; belligerent Third World fundamentalism; AIDS; the global warming trend; 
ozone depletion; exhaustion of fossil fuels; the abuse of high-tech genetics; trade 
wars; or a debt-fueled financial crisis. Nobody can today predict what specific 
problems or events America’s leaders will face in the 2010s and 2020s. Likewise, 
around 1745 and 1910, respectively, nobody could have predicted the Boston 
Tea Party or Pearl Harbor Day — still less the rapid and momentous sequels to 
those events. 

When experts investigate the future, they typically rely on quantitative pro- 



376 


GENERATIONS 


jections. But these same experts ac